Random Hacks of Kindness is a community of innovation that brings together subject matter experts with volunteer technologists to develop open technology solutions to the global challenges. Collaborative teams came together at more than 30 sites around the world to “hack for humanity.” More than anything, RHoK is a glorious experiment in focus and fast collaboration. What can you do with a roomful of highly-skilled, highly-focused developers committed to make the world a better place?

Pretty much anything.

The funny thing is, though, that while I love RHoK – I’m not a developer, not able to code, have no technical skills when it comes to software (other than the user experience!) I invite all my (also non-coder) friends and colleagues to come and work with us at RHoK and their answer is pretty inevitably “but I’m not a hacker…”

I tell them that we’re all hackers – all it means is to take a unique and unconventional approach to a problem, using what you have to make it work. Usually I start talking about the Apollo 13 movie, which almost of all them have seen. Do you remember when we had problems on the spacecraft? And the flight controllers brought in a pile of random stuff that we had available in the capsule, and said “you have to figure out how to make this fit into that using just this…” 

That’s hacking. And NASA is amazing at it – which is part of why we believe that the work that happens at RHoK is so valuable.

So how does RHoK engage a larger community than just developers? Here’s how to hack if you aren’t a hacker:

Meet people! The conversations and ideas that happen at RHoK are every bit as important as the products produced. Go around and ask people their stories. Find out what they do and why. You will come out with new ideas and new potentials.

Be a good listener, and think about what experiences you have that could apply to the approach to the problem. Our center director at the Johnson Space Center, a former astronaut, often talks about how valuable it was when engineers, scientists, educators, and others joined the fighter pilots in the astronaut corps. Different backgrounds and approaches allowed them to solve problems more quickly and more effectively. The same is true at RHoK.

Help organize, connect, and keep the team together. RHoK is short, and there is a lot to be done. Projects need names, partners, plans. Help chunk out tasks and get them organized somewhere. Tell the story of the problem – and the solution. Help document the process – it’s vital to giving the project a future.

• Do research. Every project needs a ton of research, constant searching of what is out there, what the needs are, how the data is structured. Look around. Read, learn, get more info. I guarantee you that your project will come out better for it.

We need everyone at RHoK. Developers come and build products – but project managers and engineers and ideas people and marketing types and technologists, they give the products a future.

Any stories from non-coders who participated in RHoK and found creative ways to contribute to a team? Tell us your story!

About Ali

Community Advocate

NASA Headquarters

alicia.llewellyn-1@nasa.gov