How to enjoy a hackathon


How to enjoy a hackathon

text: neeraj and alan; photos: alan (ig: @alan4america)

Over 100 people came together to work on incredible projects for our city this year at the 5th annual City of Houston Hackathon. We want more people to join us next year and enjoy the experience, so we put together a quick how-to. You may find some of the material here useful for “winning”, but the focus here is on enjoying your time. Quick tips are provided in pseudo-chronological order. When you first arrive, you need to:

Find your team

Finding a team can be stressful especially if you come late, if you don’t know anyone, and/or if you feel like other people have started and you’ll be left behind.


Be bold, be nosey. Go see what people are doing. If they aren’t clear yet, maybe you can jump in the conversation and start helping out right away. If they are already getting down to business, don’t be dismayed. They may not know how to fit you in, so it’s up to you to see what the moving parts are and if you can and want to contribute. Don’t be shy!

You can form a new team, too. Look for the people without a team and gather a few of them up. Ask them what they’re interested in working on, what they learned from walking around. Ask them what inspires them to be here, and maybe this will spark an idea for a common goal to work on.

Three key steps to success all occur early on.

Get to know your team

It’s important to get to know what skills and personalities you have around you. You’ll want to know what your team members’ skills, interests and motivations are. Aligning these with the project idea will be a major key to success.

Get on the same page about your idea

You want to get on the same page with your team, finding a common vision and setting team goals is again one of the keys to getting somewhere useful.

Get validation

The best way to know you’re doing something really useful is to have someone who will utilize the product of your team’s work on your own team. An inside man/woman, if you will. Get a subject matter expert, and give them a voice. Listen and ask questions, and have the humility to adjust for what the real needs are.

Parcel out the work

Get people’s interests and skills lined up with the tasks at hand. If you have a small team, you’ll likely know what everyone is working on, and how they’re doing (you’ll hear the sighs, you’ll see the fist pumps). If you’re on a larger team, you can set some times to check-in and see how pieces are fitting together.

Work


This is what you came here for! Get to it! Once you’ve figured out what you’re building, and why, this is where the fun starts. There should be no getting around it, this part is gonna consume the bulk of your time. That being said, there are things you should keep in mind.

Help each other out, it can be hard to ask for help if you feel like your team is counting on you for a critical piece. Instead, make it easier on each other by taking time away from what you’re working on and offering to help.

Take breaks

There are times you’ll feel a little bit like the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. If you find yourself saying “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!”, remember to relax. Take some time for yourself. If you’re overwhelmed by the buzz and the fracas, you can step out and find quiet time.

Even if you don’t think you need a break, there are many good reasons to take a quick stroll. Stay hydrated. Stretch your legs. Get you some snacks. Make friends; go meet other teams, shoot the breeze and find something to laugh about.

Prepare to present

Before the weekend is over, you get to share your work with the world (or at least a few hundred Houstonians). Make sure you set aside time for working on the presentation. Practice communicating your project; define the problem you were addressing, the solution you came up with, and what its impact will be. You won’t have much time so you have to be clear and concise. Most of importantly of all, be excited.

Collect your thoughts and write down one or two things you really want people to come away with. Get feedback from people outside your team, because this will help you identify the context people need to have before you talk about what you did. If you have a designer on your team, lucky you! Their skill and experience in communication is a major asset here.

Presenting


Be confident and be yourself. Don’t be nervous, everyone is excited about what you’ve done and eager to hear about it. The crowd is already on your side! Enjoy this part.

Celebrate


No matter where you place in the end, celebrate your achievement!


“Two straight days of hammering away at laptops and filling up whiteboards may be grueling hard work, but there’s always time for flashes of happiness. You snuck in a smile or two or three to your friends and colleagues. You were not so secretly proud of your own victories. Don’t hide it. Don’t be coy about it. You deserve to enjoy yourself.”
-Alan

Thanks for reading. We hope to see you at a Sketch City hack night soon. Peace out y’all.

Partnership Post: Global GovJam May 17-18


Sketch City is all about promoting civic innovation wherever we can find it, so we want to let you know about an event our friends are hosting the week leading up to the Houston Hackathon!

Join Design For Change and Design Thinking Houston to help solve global issues through design thinking at Houston’s branch of the Global GovJam. The event will be co-hosted by the groups, May 17-18 at Station Houston. There, the international event’s secret theme will be revealed and teams around the world will simultaneously start innovating.

The Global GovJam combines the concepts of a Global Service Jam and a Global Sustainability Jam, applying them to the world of government and the public sector. Working around this common theme, small teams collaborate for two days to innovate solutions to challenges faced by the public sector. At the end of the two days, teams will upload their results for the world to see.

Check out last year’s recap video for an idea of what you’ll experience.

To respect work schedules, the group will meet Wednesday and Thursday evenings to collaborate on the challenges.

  • Wednesday, May 17 – 5:30pm-9pm
  • Thursday, May 18 – 5:30pm-9pm
  • Station Houston, 1301 Fannin St. Suite 2440, Houston, TX

RSVP on Meetup and learn more at govjam.org.

Announcing the 311 data challenge!


The 311 data challenge is a fun way to explore how the city responds to citizen requests. 311 is the customer service department for the city. They handle all sorts of requests, from wild dogs to potholes. Amber is the color of their energy.

Recently, the city’s 311 released a dataset that contains additional information about responses from each department. You can download it here.

Looking for ideas about what to do with this data? We spoke with the 311 overlords, and came up with a list of sample ideas.

Here are the challenge details:

  • The challenge closes Friday, May 12, 2017
  • We will post a project submission link here in a few days.
  • Submissions will be judged by City of Houston employees based on whatever criteria they want.
  • You can build something practical, something artistic, something totally unique, something weird, or just something that captures your interest.
  • Winners will be announced at the Houston Hackathon on May 20!

Questions? Contact us!

We’re hiring a community manager!


Animal tech night participants working together.

Sketch City is hiring a community manager. Check out the job description below, and if you’re interested, fill out the form.

This is a part-time position based in Houston. Know someone good for the role? Send them this link!

Fill out my online form.

How to Get Started on a Civic Tech Project


Sketch City panel, 12/7/16

On Wednesday, December 7th, we got together at the Texas Medical Center’s Innovation Center to hold a panel on some of the ways our community members have gotten started on civic tech projects, with updates on where those projects are now. The goal was to provide detailed accounts of how people like you have taken a few different ideas about how to improve their communities, united teams around shaping them into projects, and worked to make them happen. This event was presented by Sketch City and AT&T.

Christmas 2016 at TMCx

The speakers who shared the stage, from left to right, were:
* Jeff Reichman, panel moderator, Sketch City
* Chris Valdez, Primer Grey and its new public interest initiatives arm, PGPI
* Jo Layne Skillman, Black Sheep Agency and AIGA Houston
* Evan O’Neil, PGPI and AIGA Houston
* Naren Salem, SOTAH Smart Apartments and Design Thinking Houston
* Neeraj Tandon, Houston R Users Group, Houston Data Visualization Meetup, and Code Park Houston

Everyone shared their answer to the question, “How do you get started on a civic tech project?”

Neeraj, donning his educator hat, used a white board to answer the question, and talked about working on a project called Johns Beware. It started on our Github repo of project ideas just before the 2016 Houston Hackathon in May, went on to become one of the hackathon winners, and has turned into a larger effort of experts working to stop human trafficking in Houston and beyond.

Neeraj Tandon graphs how to get started on civic tech, Dec. 7, 2016.

Favorite part of that graphic: get schooled. Truth!

Naren spoke of many civic tech projects he’s launched and joined toward helping his community, including Rebuild Meyerland, a design thinking research project to help flood victims in the Houston area after recent flooding. The team followed their curiosity about resiliance and flood victims. How are they best able to rebuild and what resources help them do that, and how quickly? They studied the aftermaths of Katrina and other natural disasters, and compiled their research in a report for anyone rebuilding or helping others rebuild. If that kind of work sounds right up your alley, reach out to Naren about a collaboration with Design Thinking and Sketch City.

Evan and Chris talked about their inspiration and process for starting a new design department for the public interest under Primer Grey, PGPI. Contact them for more information. They talked about their starting principles, including: don’t look for money from the people being served, but instead seek grants, foundation money, and crowdfunding.

Everyone underscored Neeraj’s point about the power of having a subject matter expert. If you talk to someone who’s doing the work day in, day out, then you can begin a real conversation about solving problems. And you can ask real questions such as, why are you even doing this? Experts may not have the best polish on their communication skills to newcomers, but that’s where designers and communications people can do valuable work.

One example: Texas Record Bleach, a project for helping Texans expunge their criminal records that was a 2016 Tech for Justice winner. Engaging with people who were already doing the legal work of this project helped the technical team quickly produce a solution.

Jo talked about her civic project, the Better Make Room campaign for FLOTUS. If you haven’t heard, the White House chose Houston-based Black Sheep Agency to help them brainstorm and communicate to high-school aged kids the importance of going to college. The problem: more and more of this cohort is devaluing college, partly because they see startups and the Youtube famous as being full of college dropouts. Jo directed the art for a campaign to flip celebrity on its head and celebrate persistence, and encourage kids to publicly share their goals.

Jo shared some tips for getting involved in civic tech projects:
* Pick something you’re passionate about. You’re going to need that passion to carry you through the hard work.
* There’s no room for egos. Your idea may not survive the ultimate goal of the project, and that’s OK. It doesn’t matter what part of the work you’re responsible for, as long as it progresses and serves people.
* Seek out experts and people who are on the front lines. Related: don’t reinvent the wheel. Big problems have lots of people working on them. They could always use more, but don’t redo work that has largely been done. Help push through to more problem-solving.

During the audience question period, Jesse Bounds from the City of Houston asked the panel what their experience was with working with the city. Jo’s take: most people don’t know how to interact with City Hall or what the opportunities are. Neeraj seconded that meeting people half way is important. Evan added online communication is key, as well as investment in physical space. Having the time and space to learn and figure things out is often where big change begins. Houston is spread out, but for example, what if the entire community could meet on the first floor of City Hall? That was an idea the audience could get behind.

Did you attend? What did you think? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or Facebook, or in our community chat, Slack. We’d love to hear from you.

Did you miss Wendesday’s event? Not to worry, we’ve got weekly meetings every Tuesday evening, 5-8 pm, at the Leonel Castillo Community Center. Many thanks to our gracious hosts.

Election 2016: Early Voting in Harris County


Long line to vote early outside Metropolitan Multiservice Center in Houston Oct. 24, 2016.

Monday, October 24th was the first day of early voting in Texas, and the last day is Friday, November 4th. That means we are smack in the middle of the only weekend available to vote early. So, if you haven’t already, go vote!

Where can I vote?

According to the Texas Secretary of State’s website, “you may vote at any early voting location in your county of registration.” So, if you’re registered in Harris County, any early voting location in Harris County will do. A list of voting locations is published on the Harris County Clerk’s website.

If you miss the early voting period and you vote on November 8th, you will have to appear at your precinct’s polling location in order to vote.

When can I vote?

Hours of operation for early voting are published on the Harris County Clerk’s website.

October 24 – October 28: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
October 29: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
October 30: 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
October 31 – November 4: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m

What kind of ID do I need to bring?

Check out the Texas Secretary of State’s website for an exhaustive list of options.

What’s on my ballot?

Check out the Houston Area League of Women Voters’ Voter Guide for all of the information you could want.

What are the lines like right now?

That probably depends on the location. I voted on Monday at around 4:00 pm at the Metropolitan Multiservice Center on W. Gray. As I got in line a local news anchor behind me said it was a 45-minute wait. I timed it at 30 minutes.

The parking lot was packed, but many parked at the shopping center across the street. As I stood outside and took a picture of the beautiful, old tree that is the focal point of the entrance to the building, a man leaned out of his car window and asked how long I’d waited. When I told him, he said he’d come back on a sleepy Wednesday. “OK,” I said, “but come back!” He promised he would.

According to the Houston Chronicle’s assistant city editor, Matt Schwartz, every day of early voting has seen more turnout than the one before.

Today at around 3:00 pm my boyfriend and his mom voted in Humble, and they said the line was about a half-hour wait, but it moved quickly.

Bottom line, go vote when you can. If you’re able to vote any time that isn’t rush hour, even better.

Any questions? Talk to us on Slack or Facebook.

Animal Tech Night Report: Puppies & Kitties Edition


Over the last nine months, we’ve been using themes to guide our monthly hack nights. We’ve had guest speakers talk about democracy, media, mobility, housing, sustainability, public health, and education.

In September, we dove into the topic of animal welfare in the Houston area. This was the perfect topic for memes, for obvious reasons. Thanks to Jeff Reichman for these gems.

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Our goal for the evening was to come up with project ideas for future development. We continued the collaborative research exercise we did for August’s civic hack night on the digital divide. We split into groups and co-researched the topic in general and as it relates to Houston.

But first, we heard 5-minute talks from two local heros:

We also heard from experts from the City of Houston BARC Animal Shelter and Northside Dawgs. All of the experts joined the research groups and answered questions after the talks. Thanks to everyone for attending and sharing your knowledge!

The research groups were:

  • Exotic and farm animal rescue,
  • Shelters and animal control,
  • And an unguided, free form group, which ended up researching Wild dogs and public safety concerns.

With a quick reminder of the data resource data.ohouston.org, we started with a few research questions to kick us off:

  • How do shelter staff do background checks for animal abuse related crimes?
  • How do we educate law enforcement and the legal system about changes in policy?
  • What are some ways to remind people that exotic animals are frequently abused?

Lots of great notes and project ideas came out of this one.

Wild dogs research table

This group started with the Dangerous Dogs Registry and a couple of questions: do people know about dangerous dogs in their neighborhoods, and what can they do about it? As they learned, there’s a big need for fresh data and a model for the data. With help from a BARC officer, they also learned about the process of managing wild dogs.

Any attack, provoked or unprovoked, can potentially land a dog on the dangerous list depending on the severity of the attack. Once a dangerous dog has been identified, owners can avoid having the dog euthanized by getting $150,000 in liability coverage. They must build a kennel and 6 ft fence, with specific locks and a special “dangerous dog” sign. They’re also required to renew a license annually, which involves personal visits by animal enforcement, but a lack of manpower makes ensuring compliance difficult. Of course, owners are also required to restrain dangerous dogs when walking them. And all dangerous dogs must be spayed or neutered and microchipped.

The group came to a good list of questions and project ideas:

  • Could we implement some type of obedience class requirements? Or an education requirement for the owner?
  • Maybe, if your dog is picked up in a sweep, there could be a course that owners have to take before the animal is released to them.
  • The sweeps are still infrequent–could we prioritize sweeps based on location of 311 calls, schools, parks, and community centers?
  • Could there be a requirement to microchip dogs picked up by a sweep before release to the owner?
  • What can we do to boost awareness of the Healthy Streets, Healthy Pets program?
  • Project idea: use the 311 dataset to implement some type of progress tracking program, or identify and further track repeat offenders.

Thanks to Rachel Green for providing her notes.

Shelters and animal control research table

At the shelters and animal control table, the group covered a wide range of issues from educating people on what to do when they lose a pet to storage and sharing of shelter operations data. Lisa Rotter of the Houston SPCA served as a great subject matter expert, providing lots of details about shelter operations, relationships between animal welfare groups, and the most pressing issues facing shelter work. Here are two problems discussed and the different solutions the group came up with:

ISSUE: LOST AND FOUND PETS. Right now, staff and volunteers at many shelters dedicate a lot of time to combing Facebook for mentions of lost pets to potentially match them with animals in the shelter. This data isn’t stored in any central repository. On a related note, many shelters require in-person visits to file lost reports.

Solution: What if there was such a central lost-and-found pets site for all shelters in the Houston area? This would be different from the shelter management software used by individual shelters and could cut down on redundant work for volunteers and staff at many organizations.

This site could be updated by shelters sharing their lost pet reports, and could potentially also allow pet owners to file their own reports online. Some of the basic information could be posted publicly while more private details would be accessible by the shelter professionals. We’d also love to see some integration with shelter management software so that it’s easy to post newly found pets at the same time the shelter does their intake.

We were surprised to learn that in Lisa’s estimate, probably only around 1% of the pets that come through SPCA’s doors actually have owners–the large majority are feral or abandoned.

ISSUE: TARGETING PET OWNER EDUCATION. Increasingly, shelters have moved to a more proactive strategy in dealing with the growing number of strays and feral animals, doing public outreach and education around spay/neutering and responsible pet ownership. But Houston is large and there are a lot of different cultures and communities. Where should shelters start?

Solution: mapping where the majority of animals are coming to the shelter from! SPCA tracks the zip codes where animals are picked up, so a data project could help them identify areas where education could have the biggest positive effect. Moving into the education phase, a related project could also sort through ASPCA’s shelter animal research, which focuses on the behavior of adopters and owners, to find best practices around pet owner education.

Exotic animals and horses research table

With help from Monica Schmidt of the Houston Humane Society, the group learned that there is no registration process for owning an exotic animal or horse in Texas. We don’t know how many are out there, and we need that data.

The conversation led to talk about efficiency. HHS covers the entire contract for their constables so they spend 100% of their time on animal calls. Constables spend a lot of this time chasing down reports of horses with inadequate care or space. If they could implement ways to make their time more efficient, they’d save a lot of time and money.

Project ideas included:

  • anonymous donation line, like a gun buyback program for exotics
  • SEO war to educate people about the expense and non-glamourous side of owning an exotic animal
  • aerial photography drones that can see and count horses and correlate to plot size to determine “in-danger properties”, saving constables lots of time tracking down reports of neglect

Thanks to Bryan Lee and Chris Sica for providing their notes.

Looking forward

If you’re interested in starting or discussing any of the project ideas or questions above, feel free to suggest a new project on Github or join the conversation in Slack.

Our goal for the next monthly hack night is to have an easy system for capturing all of the notes so we can quickly share them on the blog. Like last time, we had a lot of fun exploring a complicated topic from multiple angles.

We are so excited about next month’s civic hack night. It’s about criminal justice, and we are packing it with experts and specific research questions. Have an idea for it? Reach out. Please RSVP here, and bring a friend. No justice, no peace.

And don’t forget, if you’re looking for a chill few hours of coworking with snacks and a great view of downtown Houston, be sure to check out our weekly Tuesday hack nights, 5-8 pm at the Leonel Castillo Center. It’s the Northside location of Neighborhood Centers, our wonderful location partner.

Many thanks to Austin Coding Academy for sponsoring the September hack night! Despite the name, they are in Houston and several other Texas cities. Check them out if you’re considering coding classes.

Hack Night Report: Digital Divide


Over the last eight months, we’ve been “theming” our monthly hack nights. We’ve had guest speakers talk about democracy, media, mobility, housing, sustainability, public health, and education.

In August, our topic was the digital divide. Megan Steckly of Comp-U-Dopt gave an excellent lightning talk about how they help children earn access to technology tools.

Megan Steckly from Comp-U-Dopt was our guest speaker. Comp-U-Dopt has provided over 8,000 computers to kids in need. Photo by Sarah Rigdon.

After the lightning talk, we tried something new (which is also the reason for this blog). We treated the remaining time like a collaborative work session. Attendees broke into groups and researched the aspects of the digital divide that are most interesting to them.

First Research Group – Wifi Access

One of my favorite parts of the evening was talking to David Crowl about the Greater Houston Partnership’s downtown wifi initiative. This program is classified as “recreational wifi” and aims to add broadband capacity for people in downtown for a short period of time. For example, cellular service in the Houston tunnels is spotty at best. The downtown wifi initiative addresses this by providing free wifi throughout the tunnel system. We discussed how this could be a model for providing connectivity in big, cellular dark spots.

Next, we looked at innovative local programs like We Can Houston, who provides wireless broadband “zones” in underserved neighborhoods, as well as grassroots campaigns like We Heart Wifi, which aims to “build support for increased use of open, unlicensed radio spectrum across the nation.”

We also looked five years out, discussing “wireless fiber” and the impact it might have on internet choice and costs in limited access neighborhoods. And as we’re more increasingly dependent on broadband infrastructure, there are products like BRCK (from the awesome folks at Ushahidi) that can provide internet “backup” services by connecting to the internet through ethernet, 4G cellular, or as a Wifi bridge. There is also a cool public/private partnership from Facebook and the City of San Jose that can serve as a model for other cities. And Google is doing some crazy stuff with balloons.

Second Research Group – Technology and Hardware

Digital Divide Hack Night in Houston on August 18, 2016

The second research group took on another major aspect of the digital divide: access to technology and hardware. While students are more likely than adults to access the internet on their smartphones, many schools and employers also have baseline expectations for student and employee computer literacy. Without regular computer use, students and job-seeking adults are less likely to pick up the necessary skills.

This group focused on how to make donating used tech easier. Our guest speaker’s organization, Comp-U-Dopt is our best local example. They take in old computers, wipe their hard drives, and install a suite of educational tools that don’t require internet access. On average, they “adopt” about 1,500 computers a year out to Texas students.

Other ideas that the group researched included separate bins at recycling centers for technology donations, better advertising for places to donate, and options to drop off your old computer when buying a new one at stores like Apple, Microsoft, and Best Buy. They also looked at incentive programs for donating used technology and options like at-home pickup to make it easier.

Other cities and states have models that we can follow. Maine had a 1-1 Laptop program for middle school students since 2002 that expanded to high schools in 2009, and there are many other nonprofits and government efforts to increase access for students, families, and seniors that Houston can learn from.

Third Research Group – Technology Use Patterns

The third research group took a slightly different approach to technology hardware and focused on the patterns of use. They began with this research paper from the Federal Reserve (2008) that shows “teenagers who have access to home computers are 6 to 8 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school than teenagers who do not have home computers after controlling for individual, parental, and family characteristics.” Home computers also lead to fewer school suspensions.

Since the benefits of home computers are statistically significant, the group posed the question: what is it, exactly, that kids are learning/doing on their computers at home? Can this benefit be achieved by some other means? They looked at this study from 2010 looked at computer vouchers given to approximately 35,000 recipients enrolled in Romania’s public schools. The study found “strong evidence that children in households who won a voucher had significantly lower school grades.”

It also found “little evidence that winning a computer voucher affects behavioural outcomes. These results may not be so surprising given that few parents or children report having educational software installed on their computer, and few children report using the computer for homework or other educational purposes. Instead, most computers had games installed and children reported that most of the computer time was spent playing games. There is also some evidence that winning a computer voucher reduced the time spent doing homework, watching TV, and reading.”

Bringing it down to the local level, this group worked with Megan Steckly of Comp-u-Dopt to outline key digital divide statistics in Houston:

  • 2.1 million people in Houston
  • Low income is defined as a household with income under $30k/year
  • 34% of households in Houston are low income
  • This means 714,000 people in Houston are considered low income
  • And that means 357,000 without computers at home, or 89,500 households
  • 178,500 of those with computers have internet
  • In 10 years, Compudopt have given out 8,000 computers. Which means they’ve solved 8.9% of the problem

Wrapping Up

Unfortunately, not all research groups captured their notes. Our goal in future monthly hack nights is to report out our research on this blog.

We had a lot of fun exploring a complicated topic from multiple angles. If you’d like to participate in next month’s topic (Kittens and Puppies!) please RSVP here.

5 reasons why hackathons are a must (even if you aren’t a developer)


5 reasons why hackathons are a must (even if you aren’t a developer)

By Veronica Ramos

Editors’ note: This is a guest post from a participant at the 4th Annual Houston Hackathon, which was May 14-15, 2016. Many thanks to Veronica for sharing her perspective! – Sarah Rigdon

Allow me to paint a picture for you–it’ll give you some context. Promise. Ready? Read on.

The night before the Houston Hackathon–Friday, May 13th, scary–I absolutely regretted RSVP’ing to the Meetup page and mentioning to my friends…that I was going to a hackathon. Which, honestly, no one really understood because none of them are coders (just a bunch of yoga teachers). I had visions of a late brunch the next morning and binge watching Orphan Black on Amazon Prime. This all lasted about a second in my head. I needed some motivation. It was my first hackathon. I clicked my way over to the landing page, that took me to the Meetup page. After reading all the comments, I realized there would be a few newbies there, too! Done. Convinced. Convincing myself was way easier than I anticipated.

The next morning the early risers were a little shy or sleepy (guilty). That was an easy fix for Xela Coffee Roasters (shout out to Xela Coffee, you guys rule!), as they hand-brewed some delicious coffee for everyone to enjoy, Jeff and Sarah welcomed everyone, and excitedly played team match-makers as they introduced themselves. We were off to the races! More participants made their way into the main meeting room and started striking up conversations about their ideas. I quietly sat behind Carla and Christa (who were there to represent the Human Trafficking project) and curiously poked my head between them to ask what they were interested in.

That was the very beginning of something big. We began talking about human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking–and what the statistics are for the city of Houston. We quickly drew a crowd of interested and passionate hackers. Our project was centered around deterrence, investigation, and awareness. The next 24 hours taught me so much and just exactly what I want to share with you.

5 Reasons Why Hackathons Are a Must

  1. They Create Risk Takers.
    Your first step to collaborating with others is striking up conversations. This is possibly the easiest step, though it can seem intimidating. Starting conversations with complete strangers is a risk, but in this kind of environment, it is never a bad thing. One or two things will happen, you’ll get answers to your questions and/or you’ll find your team. Win, win.

  2. You’ll Find a New Community.
    Usually, you’ll walk in by yourself and leave knowing at minimum 2+ people who are passionate about (or interested in) the same things you are. Shared passions and interest easily lead to friendships. Thank you Houston Hackathon!

  3. You’ll Gain New Perspectives.
    Hackathons are diverse. People here have different education backgrounds and are well versed in their area of expertise. You are guaranteed to learn about a different skill and or perspective. This environment is full of information waiting to be used to its fullest potential.

  4. It Will Inspire You. Period.
    A lot of the inspiring happens while you’re working side by side with your teammates. However, it doesn’t stop there. After the 24 hours is up, presentation time is upon you…the next few hours is filled with admiration and hope. You begin to see the people in the room differently and are in awe of how brilliant everyones idea is!

  5. They Empower New Passions You Weren’t Aware Of.
    There may be a way of thinking that hackathons are ONLY for those who code and love code. AND maybe they have been up until recently. I do neither of those things, currently. I’m a designer. I love design. After spending 24 hours with majority coders and developers, I found myself interested in what the developers were doing. Me? A developer? Why the heck not. You never know what ideas, skills, or beliefs will empower you to try something new while at a hackathon.

One last thing, if you haven’t made it over to the Houston Technology Center, go! What an awesome space to have access to for this event. They kindly opened their doors for all participants. I can’t imagine my first hackathon being any different or any better.

See you next year!

5 reasons why hackathons are a must (even if you aren’t a developer)

Veronica Ramos is a creative who has a passion for yoga and humanitarian causes. Her design projects have reached global to local audiences in government and politics, academics, and startups. In her spare time, she rides her bike and catches up with her loud Mexican family. 

2016 Houston Hackathon Recap


2016 Houston Hackathon RecapWe had a blast at the 4th Annual Houston Hackathon! It was May 14-15 at the Houston Technology Center, and we want to say THANK YOU to everyone for helping make it happen. Thanks to:

  • The volunteers for being fantastic facilitators for all of the participants.
  • The participants for showing up with their A game and contributing to fantastic projects to improve their communities and help solve problems in the Houston area.
  • The judges for donating their time and expertise and making hard decisions.
  • Our sponsors who made it all possible: Two Sigma and Boxer Property.
  • All of the speakers for giving us something to think about: 2015 hackathon winner Kenton Gray, Council Member David Robinson, Council Member Amanda Edwards, and candidate for Harris County Sheriff, Ed Gonzales.
  • Houston Technology Center for a great venue.
  • Xela Coffee Roasters for the much-needed and delicious coffee.
  • Grey Gardens Granola for a tasty breakfast on Saturday.
  • Mike Stovall for making a poster that brought in newcomers from all across the city.

We had such great project submissions! Probably my favorite part of each hackathon is project presentations on Sunday, when every team gets up in front of the community and shares what they’ve done over the past 24 hours. Guaranteed goosebumps every time. If you’re ready to be blown away, check out the submissions page.

And the winners are…

Johns Beware (working title)
This is a project dedicated to ending sex trafficking by reducing demand, supporting law enforcement, and creating awareness.

District Finder API
This API allows other applications to find all sorts of political districts for a provided latitude and longitude.

Invoice Dashboard
Imagine you’re a vendor doing business with an organization that is based only in one city but has 22 AP groups.

And because choosing winners was such a tough decision, we have an honorable mention:

TaskBounty
This is a service marketplace to empower and employ local citizens to address local municipal issues.

What’s next?

While we’re very excited about the winners this year, every project on that submissions page deserves attention, because they’re all amazing solutions that were developed in a single day by people just like you. They were coders and data scientists, yes, but also designers, writers, project managers, and subject matter experts who showed up to put their passion into solving big problems in Houston. Does that sound like you?

If you missed the hackathon but want to get involved, you don’t have to wait until next year. You can attend one of our monthly themed hack nights–the next one is June 14, 6-9 PM at Station Houston, and it’s all about housing. Join us!

And stay tuned for more civic magic. We <3 you, Houston.

2016 Houston Hackathon Recap

Photo credit: Grace Rodriguez

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