Code for Oakland: Unexpected Awesomeness

It took me a long time to come down from the excitement driven high that was Code for Oakland, our second communty based hackathon in Oaktown designed to build our civic web. I’m refreshed, excited, motivated and optimistic about the direction of tech and civic innovation and engagement in the east bay and have many great people to thank for helping make this event rock.

I want to briefly share some stories of the event and to lay out some of the highlights and things that really stood out during the day.

First, it’s important to reiterate that this is a community supported hackathon, kinda like KPFA- community supported radio. We had some great support from local organizations through financial donations to help make it possible and without them the event could not have happened, so thanks to:
Ask.com
Socrata
Code for America
Kapor Foundation
The Oakland Tribune
Urban Strategies Council
The Kapor Foundation
Oakland Local
Neighborland
OpenShift/Red Hat
The City of Oakland
Pandora

With almost 150 people through the doors this was bigger and more intense than last year’s event. As a data geek I’m looking forward to analysing the data on ticket sales v no-shows in light of our experiment using the pay what you want model.

I’m excited that we had only 30% of the attendees that were software deveopers, engineers, hackers. My first reaction to the ticket sales patterns was- oh crap, we don’t have enough designers. But my man Eddie Tejeda quickly reframed this as an advantage- after all we need ideas and implementors and people who will use an app on each team, not just designers building for themselves and from their own idead. He was right. it worked.

I enjoyed Jen Pahlka’s keynote, showing us what this community can really do and how our impact matters. It’s easy as Jen mentioned, to forget your own town when there are so many needs and opportunities elsewhere that you’re asked to work!

Jen Pahlka

I was then completely overwhelmed with the intense, long list of pitches from our attendees. So many great ideas, all grounded in some very real issue or need in our community. It was brilliant, but tough to manage. I think we did a reasonable job of feeding ideas from our Neighborland system into the Googel Moderator and then trying to form teams based on general interest- given we were late and needed to expedite it could have been cleaner but most people were happy it seemed, even if a few ideas didn’t get a team because the interested pitchers joined other great project teams…

Oaklandwiki session

The first real shock of the day was the result at the end of the hack team formation- we’d spent some real time building out a great set of workshops and speaker sessions for the community and government audience who had signed up and would not be joining hack teams, just like last year. At the end of the team forming this was the scene in the gorgeous auditorium:

Wow. With only a few exceptions the whole room emptied and joined a hack team. No way. Random oaklanders from all walks of life jumped on hack teams? Damn. Stunned. I felt a crazy tension of embarassment that our great speakers were totally ditched (yes me included, how could you all?) and awe that so many people were excited to get involved in efforts they really had no comprehension of till this day. Yes this was an unplanned outcome. Very unplanned but that just makes it even more awesome- Oakland you rock.

The day was solid developing and designing from then on. All speakers cancelled. Empty auditorium. Crazy cool.

Dattit team

What stood out through the day was the intensity and desire for conversation about civic technology needs, engagement opportunities and open government and open data. People really crave a venue for these conversations. I had so many exciting conversations with peopel eager to learn more about what modern tech can offer our community and our city and ways we can support this community more consistently. Love it.

Our awesome judges

We had some elected officials and others show during the day, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, city administrator Deanna Santana,, county administrtor Susan Muranishi and the county IT crew including Tim Dupus and Tobin Broadhurst promoting their new open data resource at data.adgov.org. I look forward to the day when government leaders really devote serious time to be part of these events, but at I think that even the 15 minutes they spent with us achieved one significant goal: these leaders have now seen a building full of hackers! Not hackers seeking to destroy and undermine anything, but hackers with incredible skills seeking ways to support and growntheir community and our government. This is not a small thing. To alter their perception of this community is monumental. Hackers are not “the enemy”. Sure some can be, but the generalization is harmful to productive, innovative society that sees government embracing the abilities of moder, agile, opensource loving developers.

The day was done way too soon. Our judges struggled to identify the award splits between 10 great tools prototyped. The winning app called Hack The Budget is something that for some analysts and data visualization folks may seem trivial, but it isn’t. It’s a perfect example of how data processing, viz tools and throughtful design can take an arcane, clunky, unusable product/data and turn it into something absorbable by the wider community in our city. making government accessible is a huge challenge and this app seeks to do just that. I’d say this is a hugely re-usable app once complete and open sourced. What city doesn’t need a clearer way to navigate its budget- even for city officials themselves! I’m looking forward to immersing myself in this app when it’s complete!

The runner up app was 510eat.org, and as a geogeek I was surprised and stoked to see a full opengeo stack being used to build working app with newly released data from Alameda County. Open data being consumed and utilized as a new tool just two weeks after the resource was beta released. Nice work team!

Oaklandwiki session

Lessons learned for future/other hackathons:

Spend more time connecting teams- we had one viable team with no designers and another team with about 7 developers. Oops.

One day is tough with so many great ideas. The trend of three day hackathons is sensible. Friday evening pitches and team formation. Two days of building. This means we need a better suited venue in Oakland as the awesome Kaiser center has significant costs per day and bandwidth issues. – Ideas? Hit me on twitter with ideas or throw down in Neighborland!

We did a hackthon without soda- no Choke or other sugar hits. And noone died or even complained. We actually forgot to buy them first, then realized we didn’t have them last year either, so we decided to see how it worked out. And it did. We’ll all live a little longer to code a few more lines and make just a little bit more with our lives…

Post seems long now, thanks for getting this far and so long from sunny San Diego!

Mac world?

Come and Code for Oakland in 2012!

It’s on again! We’re helping run the second wonderful hackathon for Oaktown: called Building Our Civic Web.

The focus of this year’s hackathon is on building apps, hacking public data and building tools to support economic development in Oakland, improve civic engagement, improve digital education and literacy in our residents and provide tools to attract and sustain local business in the town.

We’ve all seen ways that new businesses, local communities and the city itself could be massively improved through the thoughtful, creative use of good new tech solutions right? This is the perfect opportunity to show how the awesome developer community in Oakland and around can contribute in a powerful way to the improving and sustaining of our city. Coders matter.

As a lead up to the main hackathon our wonderful volunteers are running a month-long series of focused listening sessions to share your ideas, brainstorm community needs and help shape what is built at the hackathon. We want to hear from small business owners, community activists, teachers, city staff, nonprofit leaders and people from across the city- your ideas may just spark a great new app or tool to make positive change in our city!

I hope you will join Oakland’s community of civically engaged developers, coders, designers, entrepreneurs and innovators as we re-imagine ways in which collaboration and technology can help shape, grow, and sustain the healthy future of our City.

We think sustainable communities are important, and software needs sustaining also, so this year we’ll feature the great apps built last year and check in with the teams on how they’ve struggled or succeeded in getting their work into heavy adoption. We’re doing this to get real about how we as a community can better support any new apps built and make sure good ideas get more than just recognition and prizes- they get used and change our community!

www.codeforoakland.org

Register now at http://codeforoakland2012.eventbrite.com/

Follow the action with #CodeforOakland

Code for Oakland- Volunteer Mixer

Are you a programmer, coder, mobile developer, engineer, product manage, UI/UX designer or some other tech loving person who wants to improve our city using technology?

If the answer is yes, and you’d like to get involved in this year’s Code for Oakland – the Oakland and East Bay-focused hackathon scheduled for July 21, right here in Oakland at the Kaiser Center near the lake – please come to the first Volunteer Mixer where you can meet and join the core Code for Oakland team and help make something really cool happen.

We’re looking for volunteers for the following teams:

Data catalog: Help pull together date developers can use to build apps for Oakland. We’re working with both local state, city and county data and national data sets that have local value.

Team Leads:
Steve Spiker, Urban Strategies, Nicole Neditch, city of Oakland

Logistics and day of: Who, what, when, where, wires and wireless–this critical team makes sure we have a space, volunteers to check people in, food, drinks and a nice after party–and maybe some cool T-shirts? If you’re good at getting things done, we could use your help.

Team Lead: Anca Mosoiu

Marketing and Promotion: We want everyone to know about the Hack Day and the programs we’re putting on July 21, so folks with skills in marketing, social media promotion and event management are needed.

Team Lead: Krys Freeman

Outreach and Community: The focus may be tech, but the problems we want to solve are those many in Oakland experience. Help plan and present some listening sessions and events that empower community members to share ideas for apps to build.

Team Leads: Paul Richardson, Matt Senate

Programming: What’s on the agenda day of? Who are the judges, speakers, presenters as we kick off our hack day–and what’s the format for those who wish to attend to learn, not to code? Help plan a great program.

Team Lead: Susan Mernit

Sponsorships: Want to help make sure this event – and the prizes for developers who build products – get funded? Join the Sponsorship team to help make the costs balance out.

Team Lead: Deb Acosta

Sustainability: How do we make sure we USE what our hack teams build–and how do we help these teams finish what they start? This is a critical question – and one we hope everyone who works on Code for Oakland and has an interest can help address – just let us know you’d like to be involved.

We have about two months till the event. We’ll be meeting every two weeks for an hour in the evening and working virtually through tools like Google Docs, Basecamp and possibly a wiki to coordinate.

If you’d like to participate, RSVP to our invite and come to our Volunteer Mixer at Tech Liminal to sign up for a team to work with.

The Deets

SIGN UP AND LET US KNOW YOU’RE COMING: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3634559064

When: May 29, Tech Liminal, 6-8 p.m.

Where: 268 14 St., Oakland

More info: codeforoakland.org