By Keith Anderson
Five years ago, outside the Pioneer Center in downtown Reno, a renegade band of hoodie-wearing coders gathered together; plotting a way to crack the City’s code. What could be found in the dark recesses of the biggest little city’s data and how could they tap into it? They called themselves Hack 4 Reno and no one knew what they might do.
Ok, well, maybe it wasn’t so much a renegade band as a bunch of professional software developers, some city managers and a bunch of students trying to figure out how to utilize the tremendous stores of data the City of Reno collects, for the betterment of our community. But when you say “hack”, people tend to go down the dark alley in their minds. Fortunately, there is hacking for good, and Hack 4 Reno is one of the best examples of what can happen when curious developers, forward-thinking city planners and engaged citizens come together.
Hack 4 Reno has historically been a weekend hackathon event to build apps that create a more informed and engaged community in the city of Reno. Trinity Applied Internet has been involved since that first year, and we have been excited to witness the event’s growth mirror the economic expansion of the city. From apps that aggregate calendar information, to traffic accident statistics, to places to get outside, many excellent projects have surfaced from those “renegade” hackathons.
This year Hack 4 Reno added a Summit to their agenda – a day of short talks, panels and activities to explore the intersections of technology and government. The Summit is a precursor, setting the stage for the hackathon in the spring. People made connections, determined what type of project they might want to work on at the hackathon and started requesting the data needed. The City of Reno leadership is instrumental in sourcing this data, making our town a great place for these citizen-led initiatives.
As one of the presenters, I demonstrated how easy it is to access data that is trapped in a static website so that anyone can give the data new life in other apps and services. You don’t need to be a developer to do this, and sometimes it allows you to get to just the right dataset to make informed decisions about civic planning, school programs or bike paths. (Check back here soon, as I will post more about this.)
This is why a hackathon is a thing – when this diverse set of people come together, we teach and learn from each other. We build community while solving problems and create something beyond what any of us could achieve in our own silos of expertise. We can collaborate, pushing technology to its limits, while opening doors for creative expression. We can build something that might surprise, delight or simplify. And, at the end of the day we can walk away knowing that our community is stronger as a result. And, if we want to wear a hoodie, it’s ok, but not required.