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We all won

The road to HackDay runs through Morocco.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” - a simple message, which decorated four workspaces in Romania, on January 25 and 26: Bucharest, Cluj, Timisoara and Iasi. On Friday, the 25th, in all the cities except Bucharest, the first local communities of Code for Romania were launched. The next day, volunteers and members of the organization gathered around laptops at the first HackDay of the year 2019. In each city, a community is filled with new people and older volunteers, around applications from the Tech for Social Good program.

“The Friday was for formalities,” recalls Cristian Boldișteanu, from Timisoara. The next day, on Saturday, he travels across a frozen city to reach HackDay. Olivia and Costin, members of the Code for Romania team are waiting for him. On an internal messaging group, Olivia posts a picture with the DevPlant terrace, where a table and a chair are buckling under the weight of the snow. But the atmosphere inside is completely different: “very friendly people”. Cristian sees many familiar faces, people he has met at other technology events in the city.

Engines and computers

Cristian finished the Polytechnic in Timișoara, at the department of Automation. Now, he describes his decision, joking: “it was easier there”. He worked as a programmer, using .NET “since launch”, then set up an IT company that developed web applications in PHP. He also programmed mobile devices, barcode scanners, using a Windows Embedded operating system - he has fond memories of the simple API, a limited .NET framework.

When he thinks of the image of “rock star” of the programmer, of that man on the team who can get things done in one day that other people can do in seven, he says that “when they allow themselves to give [know-how to their colleagues], they learn that it is much more fun to work with people. But they have to get to the point where they no longer see it as a chore.”

After thirteen years working for his own IT firm, and after moving from the role of programmer to manager, Cristian left for a year’s sabbatical. Between 2017 and 2018 he traveled on a motorcycle to Morocco with his fiancée, Ancuța. Then, a trip to Asia followed, with his backpack hanging on his back. “You don’t need to ask how it is elsewhere – you see and feel,” he tells me. “The purpose is not to understand mentally, but to see how you fit in there. I once read that you can really understand yourself when you no longer fit in where you are.”

The period of the sabbatical year coincided with the period of technocratic governance in Romania. At the same time, the civic tech movement was beginning to take shape in civil society and beyond. After the tragedy at Colectiv, the anger and the desire to change something combined with civic initiatives, gave birth to novel applications and projects that Cristian was reading from abroad.

After returning to the country, Cristian turned to a career of Agile consultant and coach. His evolution, viewed from afar, is elegant: from programmer to manager, a period of freelancing and then consultant. But he contradicts the myth of the unique career calling: “there are no absolutes in who you are and what you do. You can also do software and be a professional photographer. And I am! ”. He laughs, and continues in the same spirit when I ask him what he is, now: as a developer, or mentor. “All of the above. And some more.”

“It matters that I made a pull request and it was accepted”

The January 26 HackDay continues into the night. The last remaining volunteers hear, from the team, about a secret contest that starts as a joke: which city will send the most commits? It’s 8:00 pm and there is still no clear winner. “The idea was not to be last” - this is how Cristian tells me that the rumor was heard in Timisoara. Then he adds, laughing: “We all won.” At the end of the day, from the combined activity of four cities, which were joined by volunteers who worked from home and participated in discussions online, we all won as a society.

Cristian recalls that he had watched HackDay’s Code for Romania applications the night before. He was attracted by DataPortal, an open data platform. His latest project used open data, and the opportunity to return to programming work brought a smile on Cristian’s face. When he read the technical description of the application, he felt a taste of imposter syndrome. “Oh, that’s a pretty complex thing” was the first reaction. In the evening he carefully started to install the necessary software for the project, not knowing, however, that the next day he would pick the Python language up in a trice, although he had never used it before.

During the January 26 hackathon, Cristian had his first contact with Python. “When everything works you don’t learn anything” is his philosophy, although he also admits that working on the Data Portal application went surprisingly well. The Code for Romania team had prepared the infrastructure from which the work of the volunteers would start. “Vagrant, virtual machines, it was a pleasant surprise to see that modern technology was being used. I know that developers, when they enter a project in which they have freedom, will always choose tools that are great.”

Is one a day enough?

Nothing is perfect and the desire of our team is to become better and better every day. So we took advantage of Cristian’s experience to find out how we can better plan the next HackDays from the Tech for Social Good program. And we found out very useful things.

For a successful HackDay, Cristian sees only one essential question: “What can a volunteer start with?”. The Code for Romania team facilitates, at every HackDay, the entry of new people into the volunteer team. A list of what to do is not enough; each person must have a clear picture of the application they choose to work on. “We start from here and get there. In the corporate environment you cannot afford to lose people on the way, to disappoint them. What I like about Scrum is that you cannot succeed on your own.”

The team that formed on January 6th around the Data Portal application in Timisoara met, after HackDay, to discuss the following steps. Cristian noted the lack of planning documents. “It is very important that we do not get robbed of the stories we tell. For people to stay involved, it is necessary to apply procedures that are not a secret in the industry. It’s about estimates, we set benchmarks. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Maybe people working in the industry see these things as procedures in the business environment, maybe they are tired of them. I think in well-thought-out doses, they work. It takes a lot of energy and attention, there are long hours of work. I know this from volunteering, from the time of the student leagues.”

Cristian remained active in the team and on Slack and says that the community “gave me a safe zone to learn new things.” I asked him what he would recommend to people who are in doubt whether or not to participate in a future HackDay Code for Romania. “It feels good! There are many things to learn, it is a very exciting environment. To have a constraint, to say we are building something and we do it today is healthy.”

You can find Cristian on his website or on the travel blog launched in the sabbatical year, Apples and Gasoline.