Byte Night: Bringing tech together

Every year, IT workers sleep rough to raise funds for Action for Children, creating a unique industry event.

Byte Night Logo

For the past 11 years, something a bit strange and wonderful happens as autumn rolls around. Hundreds of IT workers leave the comfort of their desks to spend a night on the streets.

While sleeping rough isn't normally something to be celebrated, Byte Night raises funds for Action for Children, a charity which helps keep troubled teenagers off the streets.

People sign up to sleep on the day 2 October this year, so pray for dry weather to experience something of what homelessness is like, but the real work happens in the weeks and months leading up to that day, where teams and individual sleepers fundraise on behalf of Action for Children.

Byte Night kicked off in 1998 with 35 "sleepers" raising 35,000. This year, a record 700 sleepers are taking part, with 400 in London alone. Since the event started, it's raised more than 2 million for Action for Children much of that in the past few years.

That cash goes to help teens dealing with homelessness. There are 75,000 kids who find themselves without a place to sleep each year in the UK. Of those, one in three will attempt suicide, and one in seven will be sexually assaulted. If they stay on the streets longer than a week, that figure rises to one in two.

With those frightening statistics in mind, this year IT PRO and sister title Know Your Mobile will be taking part you can help us with our fundraising here and we've been speaking to Byte Night founder Ken Deeks to find out more about this unique and worthy event.

"It's the one day of the year you really see the best of the industry," said Deeks.

Buggy origins

It may come as a surprise, but Byte Night was one of the positive side effects of the Y2K bug. Back in 1998, the IT industry and society as a whole was obsessed with it and doing rather well from the fear that everything run by computers would crash and stall when the millenium arrived, according to Deeks.

At the time, Deeks was working in public relations in the sector. While traveling on the underground one day that year, he saw a poster about Action for Children, asking the country to try to end youth homelessness by Y2K. He loved the idea and the parallel with the IT sector and even the deadline. "What a wonderful thing a deadline is, it's really a call to action," he said.

With the success the IT sector was enjoying from the Y2K bug, Deeks figured it could help with Action for Children's campaign. "I came up with the idea of getting well-heeled, comfortable people to experience homelessness for a night while raising money at the same time," he explained.

Is this really homelessness?

Deeks added that the rough night is purely symbolic. "No one really believes we truly experience homelessness," he said, noting that sleepers have security, first aid and other amenities and a warm bed to go home to the next morning. "Nobody's kidding themselves that this is what homelessness is like."

"But you're cold and wet when the wind comes off the river Thames, with cold bumpy ground underneath you," he added, "it's not that comfortable."

Ian Snadden, vice president for EMEA sales at Intermec, is taking part for the second time this year.

His experience last year echoed Deek's description. "It was exceptionally cold last year I remember the feeling that this is an experience, a glimpse of what this must actually be like. A glimpse, and not a very pleasant glimpse," he said, adding that he had a hat, thermal clothing and more to keep him warm, unlike the young people actually living on the streets.

Because of that experience, Byte Night is much different than many other charity fundraisers, where the volunteer raises cash by cycling around a nice climate or hiking in a lovely locale, Deeks noted. "You want me to pay for your holiday?" Deeks questioned, saying Byte Night at least has a symbolic connection to what homeless people go through. "I can't see the connection between blind people and cycling through Vietnam," he said.

IT community

Byte Night started off as an IT-centric event, and though it's grown many times over since then, it remains a tech community event. While not every firm or individual sleeping out that night works in the technology industry, most have a connection of some sort, Deeks said.

While adding more support has some benefits, Deeks said he likes that it's an IT sector event. "People need to have some sort of comonnality," he said, saying that if they see others they know doing it, they feel like they can too.

While the event could have appeal outside of the IT industry, Deeks said he's not sure he wants to lose the sense of community the shared sector connection may bring.

"It's also proving a good way of getting some team building together," Snadden said. "It's a novel and humourous way of saying you get the opportunity to sleep with the boss."

Snadden explained that the event is a great networking opportunity. "It's good to catch up with competitors and collaborators in the industry," he said. "To connect up with people in the ecosystem that is the IT world."

Such opportunities are rarer these days, he added. "There are fewer occurances where the industry comes together People in the business day don't have time to go out. This is far, far more justifiable."

It's just not justifiable, Deeks claimed. "In a recession, it's so much more admirable," he said. "People are under a lot of stress and pressure in their day jobs."

But, the pressure on already vulnerable people is even worse, he added. "Homelessness becomes more of an issue in a recession."

Social networking

There's another tech angle to the Byte Night story, and to many fundraising events of late. While many sleepers raise cash the usual way running 10k, holding band nights or cake sales social networking has been a boon to fundraising.

Snadden said that technology is a very efficient way of raising funds. He's made use of his client databases, sending out notes via email and social networking sites to people he hasn't spoken to in while helping him raise funds while reconnecting with contacts in the process. "I've mailed my LinkedIn connections for the fist time this year," he said. "It's a very effective way of staying in touch with people not in Outlook or your mobile phone."

On top of that, much of the fundraising is over Just Giving, a website set up to make it easier to raise cash online. Speaking of which, the IT PRO and Know Your Mobile Just Giving page can be found here. See you on Byte Night

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