When I got off the Muni at Market and Montgomery on the morning of Saturday, January 14th, SoMa was quiet. Most of the usual morning crowd was probably still asleep in their beds but at the Code for America office, fellows and staff members were gathering for a really great day together.
We started the morning with amazing guest speakers, Jack Dangermond and Clint Brown of ESRI, who shared with us a wealth of knowledge about mapping. I was blown away by all the data that already existed and all the different types of data visualization that was possible with maps. At the Code for America Training, fellows are encouraged to be curious in order to get to the root of the problem and mapping is an exceedingly powerful visual tool that aides us in this effort.
In the afternoon, we kicked off the main event of the day, a Civic Hackathon. Going into the day I had some insecurities about being a graphic designer in an event that seemed so “code-centric,” but my worries turned out to be a non-factor. The exceptionally beautiful thing about a hackathon is, you don’t have to be a coder to participate. There’s ample room for designers, lawyers, geographers, city officials, and anyone who has an interest and wants to contribute.
The project that I worked on was a redesign of the Open311.org front page by building on the work that 2011 Fellow Scott Silverman had already created. The result is this, which I think is a pretty good start for a project I would love to continue working on. I’m also proud to say that this project placed 3rd in the hackathon behind extremely worthy winners – SF311.me by Zach Williams and Jessica Lord, and The Antiques Roadshow Scraper by Serena Wales.
By the time the prizes were handed out, it was past 7:00 p.m. We had spent the majority of our Saturday in the office and yet we were still in fantastic spirits and had cheered each other on from the beginning to the end of the day. Several of us grabbed a quick dinner together and spent the rest of the evening celebrating the end of our first full week as 2011 Code for America Fellows. It’s hard to remember the last time I had so much fun.
So that’s the story of my first hackathon. What I loved the most about the event was, it was essentially a group of motivated people getting together in the same space and solving problems. With the steady stream of food and beverages, conversations with colleagues, and a little bit of friendly competition, the hackathon was a perfect storm for building products. It was a day of knowledge, community, and productivity without burdens. I think it’s safe to say that I’m thoroughly hooked and I can’t wait to participate in (and maybe win!) my next hackathon.