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Why you should consider going to DemHack2016 even if you don’t code

DemHack2015. March 15, 2016 Category: EventFeaturedMediumPurpose
A common misconception surrounding hackathons is that you don’t belong in them if you don’t know how to code. Code for Philly Executive Director Dawn McDougall believes that’s a make-believe barrier to entry.

“This might be a little weird to hear,” she wrote in a post about Code for Philly’s upcoming DemHack2016 hackathon, “but if you’re a person with in-depth knowledge in an area (for the purposes of this hackathon, democracy) I want you to think of yourself as a datasource and a visioneer.”

Perspective and personal experience, McDougall said, can be the “deciding factor” in the success of a civic tech project. Just because you can’t put a line of code together (even though, yes, you absolutely can), doesn’t make you any less qualified to contribute to projects powered by data and technology than the city’s most prominent technologists.

“Civic tech projects are great opportunities to experiment with new technologies in addition to learning how to scope and design a complex project, form a team and assign roles, break up work in manageable tasks and efficient workflows, and apply well-rounded experience to see a vision realized,” McDougall said. “We want noncoders to help shape the direction of projects from the very beginning. Though programmers and data scientists are incredibly smart, it takes a diverse team working collaboratively for a truly successful civic tech project.”

DemHack, a hackathon that encourages participants to build tools that improve democracy and the democratic process in Philadelphia, starts with a Community Needs Assessment on Friday, March 18, followed by two consecutive days of hacking and building and typing and minimal bathing and democracy. Whew.

Last year’s DemHack spawned projects such as the now-famed Ward Leader Baseball Cards app, which profiles city ward leaders, and One Stop Transparency Shop, which pulls and compares city procurement data, campaign finance reports and lobbying reports to find links between contracts and donations.

A slew of partners including Committee of Seventy, City Council, Philly311, the Board of Ethics and the Commissioner’s Office have all helped make datasets accessible for the hackathon, and word on the street (McDougall’s blog post) says Young Involved Philadelphia is urging its members to participate.

Plus, according to the Twitter machine, a super special guest will be in attendance at the kickoff on March 18.

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