So, what’s a hackathon anyway?

Not totally familiar with what one might do at a hackathon? Puzzled as to how you might fit in at the upcoming Civicon? Glad you asked.

Hackathons are events where developers get together to write code, usually with an imposed deadline of some sort. Some are contests where teams compete to see who can churn out the most code (sometimes whole applications) in a short period, followed by prizes at the end. Sometimes hackathons are put together by open source groups in an effort to put a lot of minds to work on a very specific set of bugs or tasks—and the reward is fellowship, caffeine and food.

Code For Greensboro aims to throw a slightly different kind of hackathon. Of course we need developers and designers, and we do want them to team up. In our case, we’re asking teams to compete in using open data (data made freely available by local, state and federal governments in a wide range of topics) to make apps aimed at making life better here in Greensboro. At Civicon, taking place November 6-8, team projects can attempt to solve nearly any civic problem or shed light on nearly any set of statistics.

The Rack Finder

For example, a team could use Greensboro city data to create a map showing the location of every public bike rack in the city for bike commuters. They might also include the ability to ask the city for bike racks in a specific location by dropping a pin there and sending an email to the proper city official. The prevalence of that kind of open data (and, of course, the smarts of our civic hackers) make this a perfect weekend project. “Ok”, you say, “but I’m not a developer.

In the case of our mythical bike app, teams could certainly use a designer to help create the user interface and graphics for their app, or maybe a spiffy logo. They might also want to have some bike commuters or concerned citizens in attendance, who can help them focus their app’s features on its intended audience. And the team will require users who can help them test the app on different web browsers or on different mobile devices as demo time draws closer.

Other great reasons to join us

There’s gonna be food, and lots of it! And coffee! And workshops for people who are curious about learning new stuff! And speakers!

Phew. Sorry. We get excited.

But seriously, there are lots of reasons to attend even if you don’t want to join a team (but you totally should.) Maybe best of all, your attendance gives you a chance to experience a real movement taking place within our community, if not our entire state. North Carolina is at the forefront of making government data open for exploration by citizens. We’re doing amazing things to increase participation, to reach the underserved, and to provide a better understanding of how technology bridges gaps.

Need more reasons? Civic Fall 2015 kicks off at HQ Greensboro on November 6th, and continues at the UNCG/A&T Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering. We really want you to be part of it.

Head on over to the Civicon 2015 website to learn more and register. You can also follow us on Twitter at @CiviconNC and @codeforgso. Want more specific information? Drop us a line at

See you there!