Lessons Learned at the Longmont Colorado Hackathon

Last weekend I participated (as a volunteer) in the Longmont Hackathon, mainly because I’m good friends with Longmont’s webmaster, Susan Wolak. I helped judge the entries on the final day as well.

I thought I would share a few of my thoughts.

  1. I enjoyed the experience a lot more than I thought I would. It was fun helping out and chatting with volunteers and participants.
  2. Because the Longmont Hackathon went to great lengths to involve teenagers and held the event at Skyline High School, there were a great many young hackers who showed up. It was very inspiring and heart warming watching these kids get fired up about technology, open data and civic hacking. It gives me hope for the future and made me proud that I had a small part in helping fuel their interests. In particular, I was very proud of the first prize winner, a 14 year old who was working solo and whose project and presentation blew everyone else out of the water. He reminded me of my own sons and inspired me to want to get my own kids involved in civic hacking.
  3. Watching teams of programmers and technology geeks work for three days on open source civic hacking projects really gave me the urge to want to get involved. When one of Longmont’s programmers asked if I’d be interested in joining her on a team to participate in the Boulder Civic Hackfest in June (part of the National Day of Civic Hacking) I immediately said yes!
  4. Teamwork! It was also inspiring watching teams of hackers work together. One of the reasons I moved to Colorado was to take a job that involved more teamwork. Getting involved in hackathons is another great way to work in a team. As a programmer, I feel teamwork is essential to my continued growth. Experience has taught me that exposing my code to other programmers, whether that be by open sourcing it or working in teams, only makes me a better programmer.
  5. Open data fuels ingenuity. As a local government employee I know only too well that governments often don’t have the resources (whether that be time, money or personnel) to do as much as they’d like. Often the fact that we work within government tends to blind us to what can or should be done with the data we have available to us. Seeing some of the unique apps that came out of the Longmont Hackathon really reinforced my belief in open data. By opening up the data to whoever wants to make use of it, you’re really opening up a realm of possibility that just isn’t available otherwise.
  6. It was great to see a bond being created between Longmont’s government and the community it serves. Civic hackathons break down barriers, open avenues of communication and introduce resources (both people and technology) that will only serve to strengthen the community. That sort of good will (and good intention) is priceless.

Finally, having spent years helping to plan national conferences, it’s pretty easy for me to tell when an event is well organized. Hats off to Susan and her team of volunteers and Longmont city staff for doing such a great job! I was truly impressed by both the organizers and the participants.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey Ron – Great post! I am trying to link up local government and devs / hackers here in Durham for an event in the not-too-distant future. In fact, I met with county officials yesterday. Their big concern was “scrubbing” the data to make sure it protects people’s identity. Were you involved from your vantage point of local government in opening the data? If so, any lessons there or advice for how I respond to my folks here? Thanks!

Susan Wolak

Wow Ron, great post, awesome feedback. I don’t have anything else I could add since you summed up the experience that weekend for me as well. If anyone is interested in reading more about the apps that won or watch some of our videos that were streamed live from the event, please visit http://www.longmonthackathon.com. Our community submitted their ideas to consider via http://longmonthackathon.uservoice.com/ and several of the ideas that were pitched on Friday night were all somehow implemented in one or more of the apps that weekend. We’re very pleased with the end results.