April 11, 2020

A German mapmaker hacking from lockdown in Australia

By Katharina Sowa

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A German mapmaker who usually lives in Estonia got stuck in lockdown in Australia and is now hacking solutions to combat COVID-19. Wait, what? Let us tell his story.

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Once upon a time, there was Chris. Chris is a mapmaker. He started his career as a technical draftsman in architecture offices and later studied cartography and geomatics to create maps with digital tools. Originally from Germany, Chris has found his new home in Tallinn, Estonia. In Estonia, he built up his own little business, Yellow Arrow, that creates maps, sets up projects with geographical information systems, and designs marketing materials.

But one day, he went Down Under.

And what do you do Down Under? You go backpacking, of course. For almost a year now, he has been a backpacker on tour in Australia. However, you might have guessed, he isn’t touring around anymore because COVID-19 hit the planet.

Currently, Chris is in Coffs Harbour. The country is in lockdown. There is no back and forth. So he finds himself being stuck there until he can fly home again.

Life in Australia is very quiet right now. Chris describes the current situation: “As in many countries, harsh restrictions are in place to keep people safe and to stop the spread. The Australian government and people are doing a really good job. The testing rate is the highest in the world and the number of confirmed cases and deaths is relatively low. I am staying in a backpacker hostel and people try hard to follow the social distancing measurements.”

It is difficult, but they are trying to make the best out of it.

But Chris is not a lazy guy. He decided to not only sit around and wait for this to be over, but to actively do something that is useful. That’s why he joined The Global Hack.

“I do believe that it’s never wrong when people come together and think about ideas and solutions that could help us to get through times like this together and make life easier. I have participated in a few hackathons and ‘mapathons’ in the past, and I liked the atmosphere during such events. This type of work, side by side with others who have totally different skills, is very exciting and inspiring”, explains Chris. “And well, honestly? Right now, I also have nothing else to do!”

Chris is really impressed by the idea to make the event global. But it’s also quite a challenge to unite people from different time zones and have them work together on the same projects. “I am struggling a bit in catching up when I turn on my computer in the morning because while I was asleep, a lot of discussions were going on and I missed out on some things.”

He signed up for one idea on the environment track. Unfortunately, this one didn’t survive the early stages and make it into the hackathon itself. But he tries to use the time for networking with the other participants and following the outcomes of the hack.

For Chris, it’s great to live in times in which you can easily use digital infrastructures to connect with people from all over the world.

Looking at his home country, Germany, and his chosen home country, Estonia, there are a lot of differences when it comes to digitalisation.

For Chris, the biggest challenge lies in the overwhelming bureaucracy in Germany that slows down the whole process. “Yes, Germany is bigger than Estonia and our network is far more complex. But, to give an example from my experience, when it comes to the use of state-owned geospatial data, which is needed for the planning process, Germany has restrictions which vary from state to state. Some provide free data, some only for a fee. Making the data structure state-wide consistent is one thing, but the access, however, is not (yet) consistent.”

In Estonia it’s different. People live by a ‘can do’ attitude and aren’t afraid of taking risks.

Germany can learn a lot from Estonia here, Chris thinks. “Courage and openness to more digitisation is something that Germany should learn from Estonia, but also that we Germans should stop taking everything way too serious.”

“Estonia gave me the impression that, when it comes to IT, Estonia takes more risks and sees the advantages”, says Chris. Therefore it only makes sense that Estonia was the very country from which a global movement like The Global Hack originated.

What Chris wants to take out of this hack are “interesting conversations, connecting to people you normally wouldn’t meet, and inspiration. That is what keeps the world and us going!”

In this spirit, let’s keep going!

The Global Hackruns from 9-12 April.