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Redbrick In Review: 2018-19

 ·  ☕ 19 min read

It was always an intention of mine to document my tenure as Chairperson of Redbrick in some format, but I wasn’t sure whether that would be in a series of weekly/monthly blogs, or just an end of year write up. As you can see, I have a penchant for laziness and have opted for the latter, as the former was just a little too time consuming. As time passed by, I realised that it wasn’t my work as Chairperson I needed to talk about, but the work of the Redbrick committee as a team, so, to the best of my ability, I’m going to breakdown Redbrick’s 2018-19.

Failure and Success

Measuring that which does not have a universal standard or a unit can be quite tough, thus is the nature of both success and failure. That is not to say that you cannot quantify success and failure, you totally can, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Despite it’s negative connotations, failure is actually a constructive and healthy thing, it’s just as important as success, if not more important in some instances.

Success is proving that you can do something that you already know you can do, or doing something correctly the first time, which can often be a problematical victory. First-time success is usually a fluke. First-time failure, by contrast, is expected; it is the natural order of things. Failure is how we learn.

So what does this have to do with Redbrick’s 2018-19 year? Well, it’s easy to evaluate that Redbrick’s year was nothing short of stellar - and I’ll get into the highs soon enough - but if I didn’t talk about what we did wrong, what we failed at, I’d just be presenting you with a superficial and sugar coated lie. We did make mistakes and we can learn from our peers, and should be transparent about such things, putting aside ego and acknowledging one’s shortcomings is how growth and development is achieved.

So… what were our goals?

You cannot hope to measure one’s rate of success or failure without setting a simple set of aims and objectives. So starting back in September, Redbrick had a pretty ironclad set of goals. In no particular order these included:

  • Engagement with other Clubs & Societies

    While Redbrick provides hosting for many websites such as The College View and The Look DCU, along with the radio stream for DCUfm, we have, at least for the past few years, operated in the shadows in a way. If Redbrick wanted to be recognised for all the work it does, we needed to get out there in the real world, meet with the societies we provided services for and to see what more we could do for them, see how we could improve their services, help them further build their online presence and platforms. Redbrick grew offering services to other clubs and societies, so as an objective this makes total sense.

    No longer is it just “oh yeah, that’s broken, just fire Redbrick an email there”, for a lot of societies now it’s “oh X from Redbrick is dead sound, I’d say they can help us out with it.” Putting faces to the society on a campus wide level has completely transformed our image. We are still the nerds but, now people at least know our names and that we are pretty swell folks.

  • SISTEM

    I’ve already written an entire post about how we made SISTEM happen here. In short, we wanted to improve the conference from the year before. The concept was simple, bring together networking and computing societies from across the country for meetup style conference run by students, for students. We aimed to break to 100 person attendance mark and, well, that was very much a reality when the day came around, with the event selling out to a 150 person attendance. I won’t get into it too much from here on, but mark sure to have a read of that post I linked above, you’ll find all the relevant information in there.

  • FOSDEM

    The annual trip, as I’ve been advised by the Clubs & Societies office in DCU Redbrick has been travelling to Belgium for the best part of a decade. I should probably fact check that against the wiki. In any case, we knew that this was a tradition to keep up. For those not in the know, FOSDEM is the annual european meetup for open-source developers. I know what you’re thinking - Redbrick sound like they’d be right at home there. It’s hard not to feel at home in the land of Belgian chocolate, Belgian beer and Club Maté. So yes, bringing over a gang of brickies was high on the priority list this year, it’s a really wholesome experience in all, the group really bonds over there. It’s always a personal highlight of the Redbrick calendar.

  • Server Room Move

    Redbrick has been without it’s server room for years now, and the wait to move into the new one since it’s completion has been agonising to say the least. While we had no direct control over when we could start the move, we set a goal of it occurring before the academic year was out. The server room move would mean the dawn of what has been dubbed Redbrick 2.0, and with this change in infrastructure we could focus on even more exciting prospects moving forward.

  • Weekly Wednesday Talks

    There’s not all that much to say on this one. Redbrick hosts weekly talks/workshops on a Wednesday in the School of Computing. Our goal was to keep this up year round, with no dip aside from the final week of each semester and the week of the AGM & Pub Quiz. Talks and workshops, these Wednesday events would be split between Redbrick originals and talks/workshops from companies such as Microsoft, Mastercard, Tenable and Arista.

  • Weekly HackerClub

    HackerClub was one of our biggest successes last year (2017-18), and in short in consisted of weekly two-hour competitive programming workshops. It really created a sense of community between the first years in particular and the rest of the membership. We aimed to run the workshop in the same format this year.

Living up to expectations

So we had our goals set out in front of us, but how did we do? Did we manage to live up to the standard we set for ourselves? Did we set the bar too high? In this section, I breakdown how we did in relation to each one of these goals.

We start off with our level of campus engagement. Over the course of the 2018-19 year, this significantly improved. Redbrick came out of the shadows once more, and coming out of our hiding place wasn’t all we did, or else we couldn’t chalk this up as the success it was. Redbrick actively built friendships between itself and other societies we help out in one way or another, making them are aware of people on the Redbrick committee. Alongside this, we brought new societies such as DCU SpeakEasy into the fold, giving them an online platform outside of social media. Redbrick built its reputation around the idea of “we’re a bunch of sound folks AND we can fix your problems.” Surprisingly, being less elitist about technology and knowledge works! Who knew? In general we have seen a 20% rise in the membership of Redbrick, and the bonds Redbrick have forged this year are a testament to the success that our campus engagement initiative was this year. We are very much recognised as an active part of the DCU community again.

If you attended SISTEM 2019, chances are you probably liked it, because I’ve heard very little in the way of negative responses to the event. Sure, the odd bit of constructive criticism here and there, but nothing I wouldn’t see as just. I’ve already detailed here what we hope to improve on with SISTEM 2020, but for the sake of this post, we can chalk this one down as another big win for Redbrick this year.

Redbrick’s annual trip to FOSDEM, probably my favourite event of the year in a way, though it’s a close one between it and SISTEM. In the years Redbrick has been jetting off to Belgium for the annual conference, it has grown as a bonding trip of sorts. If we could bring more than 25 that would be brilliant, because the more the merrier on these kinds of trips - though it’s not easy manage more than 25 people over a weekend so… yeah perhaps 25 is just the right amount. In any case, the trip was a big success once again, though if there was anything I was to criticise it would probably be that we should aim to have all things booked about two weeks earlier, just because the stress of booking everything at the last minute isn’t fun.

The server room move is happening - finally! Depending on who you ask, this should have happened anywhere between 9 to 12 months ago. It was always the case that we were ready for the room, but it wasn’t quite ready for us. Many obstacles popped up during the year when it came to making the move, and at times we wondered if this would ever come to fruition. We’re happy to say that Redbrick will move into its new home on the 16th of April 2019 with admins (both past and present) helping out on the day. Though we were given a short window of time to organise this move, the preparations have been made and the plan was well detailed upon each step of execution. Exciting times lay ahead for our future admins as this means that Redbrick 2.0 isn’t far from kicking off either - but more about that at a later date.

Our Wednesday talks were more successful than I anticipated over the course of the academic year. I made sure to take attendance for each event we held on a Wednesday, and over the course of the year we averaged an attendance of 34 people per Wednesday talk, with a high of 69 (Mastercard Tech Talks) and a low of 18 (An Intro to Java). This figure of roughly 34 people per talk is just over double the average attendance last year, so based on that alone we can say our weekly events were an overwhelming success. Here is a list of the events we ran over the course of the 2018-19 year:

  • Semester One (2018)
October 3rd - Intro to Redbrick by Tom Doyle.
October 10th - Why (almost) everything is worse at Scale. And why that’s Good. by Microsoft.
October 17th - Intro To Linux by Conor Berns and Connor Mulready.
October 24th - Mastercard Tech Talk by Mastercard.
October 31st - Intro To Linux by Conor Berns and Connor Mulready.
November 7th - Tech Jargon Juster Quiz by James McDermott.
November 14th - Git Good by James McDermott.
November 21st - Tenable at Redbrick: Vulnerability and Security by Tenable.
November 28th - Web Design Workshop by Sean Fradl.
December 5th - Demonware, Call of Duty & Hats by Demonware.
December 12th - Christmas Party! by Redbrick, Games Soc, and DCU AMS.

- Semester Two (2019) ``` February 13th - An Intro to Java by Conor Berns and Connor Mulready. February 20th - Arista Code Challenge! by Arista. February 27th - BASH: Seizing the Memes of Production by James McDermott. March 6th - BASH: Seizing the Memes of Production Re-Run by James McDermott. March 13th - Programming languages from the ground up by Conor Berns and Connor Mulready. March 20th - Get a Job by Colm Cahalane. March 27th - Building a Shell from Scratch by James McDermott. April 3rd - Redbrick Annual Table Quiz by The Redbrick Committee. April 10th - Summer: A Redbrick Guide to Upskilling by Sean Fradl. ```
So as you can see, a great variety of topics and themes were prevalent amongst our Wednesday talks, but of course, we also did events that weren't on Wednesday: - Others ``` October 11th - Redbrick EGM by The Redbrick Committee. October 15th - Accenture Analytics Graduate Programme Talk by Accenture. November 22nd - Intersocs Social Night by Redbrick, UCD Netsoc, DUCSS, DIT Netsoc, DU Netsoc and MUCSS. November 26th - Microsoft at Redbrick! by Microsoft. April 3rd - Redbrick AGM by The Redbrick Committee. ```

This, of course, doesn’t include SISTEM, as I previously discussed it. Based on the above and the average attendance, it’s fair to say our events were a success when it came to Wednesday events and otherwise.

Well, that’s kind of a lie, and you’ll see what I mean in a minute. HackerClub is a weekly workshop run by Redbrick, which has a storied tale to say the least. HackerClub was born from the mind of Tom Doyle in 2017 while he was Helpdesk, and it grew each year since. I took the reigns as Events Officer in September 2017 and more of the same occurred. It was something I genuinely loved doing in Redbrick because it provided a space for people to improve their coding abilities in a more fun and non-serious manner. Moving into September 2018, this was the same, until I suffered a little from the James McDermott burnout. I genuinely took too much on at a given time, and HackerClub’s content and output suffered as a result. It’s an experience I’ve learnt from too, and I take full responsibility for the disappearance of HackerClub from the weekly calendar. So while we chalk this down as a failure, we learn some valuable lessons from it about doing too much at once. I’m happy to say HackerClub is receiving a reboot in September 2019 and this will be spearheaded by some amazing people on the Redbrick committee.

The sum of it’s parts

Goals are good, there’s really no disputing that, but it’s really the journey towards your goals that matters. On the path towards your goals, a lot more important things begin to happen; you see change manifest itself. In terms of a team, change happens in relation to different members of the team’s skill sets, decision making, and level of confidence. In the right kind of environment, this should all happen at a gradual rate, with each member of the team developing to some degree. A good team is like a machine, it’s only as good as the parts that make it up. Redbrick is made up of a lot of different parts, technical and non-technical, but each role is as valuable as the next, as it reduces the burden some one else would inevitably have to carry.

Here is the committee of 2018-19:

Chairperson - James McDermott
Vice-Chairperson - Eamon Crawford
Secretary - Nevan Oman Crowe
Treasurer - Ciara Godwin
Public Relations Officer - Josh Malone
Events Officers - Cliodhna Harrison and Jack Liston
Graphical Design Officer - Theo Coyne Morgan
System Administrators - Tom Doyle, Lucas Savva and Ben McMahon
Webmaster - Sean Fradl
Helpdesk - Conor Berns and Connor Mulready
First Year Representative - Maciej Swierad
Ordinary Members - Cian Kehoe and Daniel Christie

When you look over the goals we set out for ourselves and what we achieved - you need to understand that this was in no way, shape, or form a one person job. It takes all 17 of us to stage such a successful year. I'm part of the old guard in Redbrick, and the old guard knows internally how Redbrick works. It's the new folks that came on board that really impressed me in particular, they had this new-found enthusiasm that really inspired the remainder of the committee

When Lucas Savva came on board, he made it clear from the first meeting that he wouldn’t have time to engage with events or anything non-technical. Fast forward a few months and you’ll find he threw himself into everything, organising the Republic of Ireland’s only hub for UKIEPC single handedly in Redbrick name. Along with this, the degree of professionalism he brought to his administrative work has also influenced many the person on the committee. Lucas may well have had the best rookie year in Redbrick’s recent history, and his impact and drive has rubbed of on many members of the committee.

Cian Kehoe and Maciej Swierad were our two first years that came on board rather back in September/October. Over time they showed increased awareness and confidence in their roles on committee, and now find themselves fielding their own ideas at meetings, and I think the future of Redbrick looks rather promising if either intends to stick around.

Theo’s Coyne Morgan came on board as our Graphical Design Officer, and he has been responsible for most, if not all of Redbrick’s media assets and posters since he has been elected. Theo’s designs have always astounded me; he does things that are just not-native to me but his output has been a huge reason why Redbrick has had a great level of attendance at weekly events - because it gives the impression that we care so much about our events that we try to make each one visually distinguishable. Theo’s work has been a huge part of our year, and you can check some of it out, here, here and here.

Jack Liston came on board as part of Redbrick’s events team and without a doubt, his enthusiasm for how we can interactive different online and how events in Redbrick can change to cater to our membership in a more effective way is only surpassed by his love for the gif of Crash Bandicoot dabbing. Jokes aside, Jack has brilliant ideas for events moving forward in relation to inter society crossovers - so be on the lookout for him folks.

I could talk about more individual members until the cows come home, but for a minute, to wrap up this section I’d like to talk about a member of the committee we lost about two-thirds of the way through the year. System administrator and former Helpdesk Tom Doyle was the person who got me into attending Redbrick events, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who can say that. Tom always saw the potential in Redbrick, and opened the floodgates for change this year proposing the committee expand from 12 people to 17. This expansion led to so many wonderful and talented additions to our committee and completely changed our workflow. The attitude Tom approached Redbrick with is hard to replicate, and it’s because of him the society once again has a bright future.

Recognition

So you’re aware of what we did this year, and who was part of the team that did it. Surprisingly, other people recognised the changes we made, and the success that came from these changes. At the end of March, Redbrick walked away with the “Most Promising Society” award at the DCU’s Clubs & Socs Awards Night, an award bestowed upon a society who has shown the most improvement during the year. This was certainly a surprise, a welcome one at that, but it was never a goal of ours. With that said, hearing the kind words from people from all the other societies was genuinely my favourite part of the C&S Awards - it’s nice to see Redbrick is having an impact outside the School of Computing once more.

So yes, it certainly was a a nice little bonus, and it meant we went forward to the BICS to represent DCU on the national stage. We didn’t win when it came to the BICS, but we were so honoured to represent DCU in the first place, we never expected that such a thing would transpire in such a short space of time.

Awards are material things and they are not the driving force behind why we do what we do, but recognition in any form, be it a few kind words or an award, is always humbling, and we were very much humbled by the kindness the DCU community have shown us.

Preview: Redbrick 2019-20

So our AGM took place on the 3rd of April 2019 - and with it came the end of my tenure as Chairperson of Redbrick, exactly one year to the day it began. I learnt a lot during this time about patience and empathy, and it has made me grow as a person. Now I’m a System Administrator of Redbrick - you have to pass an exam to do that so I guess I’m real fancy. I’ll probably write about some plans the admin team has moving forward soon enough.

Here’s what the rest of our committee looks like moving into 2019-20:

Chairperson - Ben McMahon
Vice-Chairperson - Cian Kehoe
Secretary - Nevan Oman Crowe
Treasurer - Sean Hammond
Public Relations Officer - Tara Collins
Events Officers - Cliodhna Harrison and Jack Liston
Graphical Design Officer - Theo Coyne Morgan
System Administrators - James McDermott and Kyle McCann
Webmaster - Sean Fradl
Helpdesk - Conor Berns and Maciej Swierad
First Year Representative - TBD
Ordinary Members - Josh Malone and Shane Grouse

This section is a sneak peak of sorts. "What are they cookin' up in the Redbrick kitchen?" I hear you asking yourself. There are some very fun ideas in the field of play at the moment - but I can't spoil them I'm afraid. Let's just say we are experimenting a little bit more with what it means to be a networking and computing society in 2019.

What I can say is that we sure know what needs to be improved upon. Some things like HackerClub need a soft reboot with a new structure, which is currently being discussed among the new committee. Along with this we want to examine the way we make use of and leverage social media - I personally think we should take a more UCD Netsoc-esque approach (if you haven’t seen their Twitter check it out).

Now, I’m going to be a bit serious here, but the topic at hand is quite a serious one. Redbrick has a problem with diversity and inclusion. Before you get all riled up, I want to take a minute to explain that this isn’t the biggest of issues among our events as we have members from many different cultural backgrounds come along to our events. This issue seems to manifest itself on a higher level - the committee. No one can argue that Redbrick doesn’t have an issue when it comes to gender imbalance across the board in this regard. UCC Netsoc’s outgoing committee had a 1:1 male to female ratio, so there evidently exists a solution where everybody wins. In my time as Chairperson, the thing I am most disappointed about is my lack of action to address this serious issue. Redbrick is a community; it is for everyone, and we should make more of an effort to make sure everyone knows that.

Thanks for reading, and we will see y’all in 2019-20. ❤️


James McDermott
WRITTEN BY
James McDermott
Software/Systems Engineer