Sebastian works as a volunteer at the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany. The Open Knowledge Foundation Germany is an NGO with the goal of promoting open knowledge, connecting people who work on projects for an open and just society, and strengthen digital literacy and the ethical use of technology.
But he was not always a volunteer there. He first came into contact with coding in school by taking a mandatory class. Looking at it now it was a rather lucky coincidence because it wasn't his first choice as a subject. But soon enough he enjoyed it and had fun playing around with code and logic. The computer executes commands and any errors made are given back as an error-output. This logic and restriction also gives a lot of space for creative experiments. At school, the teacher mostly covered programming exercises and the creation of small games with Java-Applets.
Since the Java-Applet already back then wasn't compatible with many browsers, he discovered that android apps can also be programmed with the java-applet. (tl;drJava-Applet was originally used for creating physics games in the web browser. But since the code is executed on the computer, they are not secure anymore and most browsers block them).
In the afternoons he spent quite some time working on dice games for android. Seeing immediate results and how they can be used on the smartphone and interacted with was rewarding and motivating. Again it was rather by chance that he heard about Jugend hackt (youth hacks) through one of the podcasts he listened to. Jugend hackt is a program initiated by the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany e.V. and medialepfade.org - Verein für Medienbildung e.V. in 2013. The program is for young coders, hackers, and pupils who are interested in creating prototypes of solutions for a better world. It started with a weekend event in Berlin and has since then grown to a Germany wide network with partners in Austria and Switzerland.
Sebastian first participated at a Jugend hackt event in Hamburg in 2016, at the age of 16. Together with a group of like-minded teenager he worked on a weather station equipped with a raspberry pi and sensors. The station could not only measure the temperature but with an app it was possible to follow the changes and get real time graphs and the comparison of different stations. At the end of the weekend all the participants showed their projects and shared their ideas. Seeing what they had accomplished by the end of the weekend was a great feeling. It was amazing to be among so many teenagers with the same interests and passion. What all the participants had in common was a shared interest in tech and programming and how it can be used for a meaningful purpose.
"Finally being around normal people", - describes the first experience well.
Sebastian continued participating in Jugend hackt events, his second one was in Berlin later in 2016. There he and his group developed a prototype to calculate the ecological footprint of the personal grocery shopping list. Looking back at it now, he would say that the project couldn't be finalized during the event like some others, since he didn't have many data samples available. Yet, they learned a lot during the process.Unlike other hackathon formats, there are no awards or competitions included at Jugend hackt. The format focuses on supporting the young participants in developing their ideas, encouraging them in raising their voices and experiencing themselves as active creators. Small failures or mistakes that might occur are seen as a chance to grow and a learning possibility.
Towards the last year of school, Sebastian started looking into what he could do after school. He soon realized that he wanted to take a gap year. Instead of jumping into university, he started looking into possibilities for the year between school and university. Then he received the newsletter by Jugend Hackt and read about the possibility of doing a Bundesfreiwilligendienst (federal volunteer service) at the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany. The federal volunteer service is a program by the German government which encourages volunteerism for social, ecological, or cultural public welfare.
Through his position Sebastian is involved in two big projects. One is Jugend hackt where he helps with organizing the events now. Instead of being a participant he is now a contact person for the participants, he answers their questions and prepares and orders materials.
Another exciting project at the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany is fragdenstaat.de (as the state). German law states that citizens have the right to get access to information such as statistics, research or information obtained by governmental bodies. This is similar to the freedom of information acts in the UK or US. However, often it is unclear how to exactly get access to them or access is being denied. The platform fragdenstaat.de wants to raise awareness of citizens about their rights and wants to lower the barriers to participate actively. Sebastian gets to answer questions and request by users, and supports them with technical questions. He is also searching for new government agencies that are not yet part of the database, for example, agencies that work on the European level.
He works both on an administrative and on a political levels. He supports campaigns and different activities, but also coordinates lawsuits in case government agencies deny access to documents and information that should be accessible due to the legislation.
One of the latest project is FragSieAbi, an initiative by fragdenstaat.de . The idea is to get access to old Abitur questions and topics and to fill them into a databank. Sebastian was particularly involved in the research for this project, as well as the evaluation of the answers and responses. As a federal volunteer he is also participating in weekly meetings of the organization and gains insights into the structure and work of the other exciting projects. And how code an be used to improve the world.
Since it is almost the end of Sebastian's year the OKF, he wrote a blog post about what he has learned and done during the past few months. If you are interested, you can take a look here: https://jugendhackt.org/mein-bundesfreiwilligendienst-bei-der-open-knowledge-foundation/
Photo credits: CC-BY 4.0 Jugend hackt, Foto: Sandra Schink and CC-BY 4.0 Jugend hackt, Foto: Leonard Wolf