Being a YRS 2011 Mentor

This year, I signed up to be a YRS mentor to help Steven Flower (@stevieflow) run the Manchester Young Rewired State (YRS) centre located at MadLab where 8 talented teen boys (unfortunately no girls) gathered together to hack open data for a week. After winning ScraperWiki’s Hacks and Hackers Hack Day Manchester (#hhhmcr) last year, I was more confident of my ability of interpreting and manipulating open data, and consequently more motivated to share my knowledge about open data and to facilitate the development process. Apart from helping Manchester’s local hacker community to grow, being part of the YRS team also gave me an opportunity to observe “the social life of open data” – how raw freshly-released open data can be turned into useful information through socio-technical interactions (a project funded by Salford University VC’s Early Career Scholarship).

The week kicked off with some presentations about existing work. Ben Gibbs and the participants of last year’s competition demonstrated their work. Just before Monday lunch time, there was a brainstorming session where people submitted ideas about the prototypes they’d like to build and share some datasets and tools available. Then, everyday there was a debrief where people showcased their achievements and got feedback from peers.

Projects created by the Manchester YRS team include Manchester Routefinder, Baby HTML, Madlab NDM, 100 songs to hear before you die, Great British Recipes, Open Library, Dev Survey / Spam Email, PacMap, MP Quiz, Kickstarts, matchMyMood (see all 12 projects created by the YRS2011_Manchester team, and more projects presented at the YRS2011).

It’s interesting to see that compared to adult hackers, these Mancunian young hackers liked to build things around cultural data (music, film, events data). Clearly entertainment occupies a huge part of a teen’s life. And this highlights that open data can be made very useful when it’s of the central concerns of people’s everyday lives.

Personally I’ve learned so much working with these gifted young gentlemen – both in terms of technology as well as a hack-cenetred pedagogy (how to mentor young wannabe hackers). Steven Flower’s words were particularly illuminating when I questioned a young hacker “how does your routing tool differ from GMPTE’s Journey Planner“? Of course I asked that question out of good will in order to get him consider his contribution and unique position (e.g., building a millions-pounds-worth tool just within two days by using free software and open data). But, Steven inspired me when he said “This is a hackspace/week for young coders to learn and share ideas – not to come up with slick marketing concepts. Perfection or polished work is not the goal of this activity. We are here to learn and to have fun. It’s the experience that counts, not the results/outcomes.” (please note that this is a sloppily recollected quote, rather than a verbatim quote.)

I was really touched by Steven’s words, which also brilliantly insinuates what it means and takes to be a hacker: being a hacker is a continuous journey of learning and having fun – to share with all wannabe hackers.

More on YRS2011 and Steven Flower’s blog entry.

=== Brainstorming on Day 1 ===

=== Keep on working at MadLab Day 3 ===

=== Hungry young hackers having Pizza ===

=== Portraits of some young hackers at work ===


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