lunes, 18 de marzo de 2013

Passion, work and resurrection returning from the abyss of the hacker underworld

We are GeoCensos, NASA has chosen us to organize Space Apps Challenge 2013 Bogota on April 20 and 21.

Although a group of experts and programmers in geoinformation and census distributed along the Andean dorsal spine of Latin America, including the Caribbean, we had not descended before as by now into the depths of hacker circuits. From the globally famous anonymous to small groups of mechatronic university level students and passing through the well known hackerspaces, the world of coders is still an enigma for the “official” world. This is true for most of our Latin American countries with many imported corporations, not to mention Governments.

However, this abyss was not an obstacle to go - in the course of little more of a month and a half- from being no more than three people to recruit a legion of would-be engineers of 7 Colombian universities, including the National University of Colombia. All this done, certainly, with no more support than a handful of good ideas, social networks and a solid commitment and attitude for the cause. Our strategy: targeting the heart of the land of Juan Valdez hacker spaces with patience and respect, with a low-profile attitude.

It all started around January when a temporary employee of a U.S. Government agency contacted us in relation to a certain reference given by a development organization for the Mesoamerican region, SERVIR - CATHALAC. Kindly, she offered us organizing in Bogota the location for NASA's INTERNATIONAL SPACE APPS CHALLENGE global hackathon event. This challenge is aimed to impact with coding the social environment on the earth and navigated space. We liked the idea and immediately put to work.

In the first month of efforts we only worked to contact and persuade potential partners, corporations and government, without addressing participants. We didn´t reckon then that the real wealth of the event was in the groups of programmers and their associations: a real interwoven network of technology enthusiasts and idealists, very young but very skilled and committed. We first knocked at the doors of several groups of activists of the open source initiative, such as local Open Street Map, Bogohack and Hackbo. The latter invited us very attentively to their house in the neighborhood of chapinero. We where no more than 5 guys from Geocensos at the meet ups.

Countless emails, documents of proposals and a lot of community management followed to continue the goodwill hunting on the elusive terrain of hackers. Thanks to the support of an intermediary company of satellite technologies, Fourtelco, we procured a nice space to gather near the fancy parque de la 93 in Bogotá. With the support of IEEE (an active group of engineering students), plus some other sponsors that were starting to listen to us, we arrived to 25 active participants more. Things were promising.

An overwhelming feeling of achievement did not took our breath away until a group of students from Universidad Distrital invited us to one of their regular meetings to air our event. Great was our surprise when we were greeted by representatives of more than 200 students from more than half a dozen of the country's universities in the main auditorium of the house of studies.

And we were lucky: Diego Urbina, the colombo - Italian astronaut was at that time on skype and personally supported from Cologne, Germany, the airing, encouraging the participation of the present. In addition, with the presentation on our web site displaying the registry to the hackathon we reached more than 100 registered interested. With the enthusiastic commotion, several students rushed to sign up as volunteers. Not bad for an idea that started with a handful of volunteers from an NGO.
The hacker underworld seems to have gone from villain to hero in a few years. From the dreaded cracking of computer security to the active participation in matters of public relevance through apps, programming lovers are gaining a space at the tip of codes in the silent but inevitable formation of a new information and communication society. Officials and representatives: you are duly informed. Please do not say that we did not warned you; a whole legion of technology leaders is resurrecting and we are simply called “the hackers”.

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