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Video Hillsborough County (FL) Hackathon is a Sign of Increasing Tech Awareness (Video 30

The idea of the Hackathon was to develop either Web or mobile applications that would dovetail with county services and be useful for county workers, county residents or both. The winners got cash prizes, but many people on the nine competing teams weren't aware of them until the closing awards ceremony when the three winners were announced. But then, this is a helpful part of the country where, if an old person falls down on the sidewalk, strangers will rush to her side, whip out cell phones in case a 911 call is needed, and help her to her feet. A hackathon to benefit your neighbors is nothing but an extension of that spirit. One note: Several county employees said this was the first-ever government-organized hackathon around here, but there was a Tampa Mayor's Hackathon last June, and Tampa is the biggest city in Hillsborough County. But this is all good, and Hillsborough hopes to hold a bigger (and hopefully better-publicized) hackathon next year. Meanwhile, there are more home-grown tech events around here every year. April 25 saw the 3rd annual Ignite Tampa event, which brought together people involved in "technology, arts, communications, education, non-profits, the government sector and more" to meet with "the community" -- and local venture capitalists. And the inaugural Sarasota-Bradenton BarCamp is scheduled for May 2 - 5. And so on. Lots of events, many of which combine technology and the arts, which is always a delightful mix -- and one we look forward to seeing even more of in coming years, not only in Florida but everywhere in the world.

JoAnna I am JoAnna Williams and I’ve been working with the County planning this first ever Hillsborough County Hackathon. And it is a 48-hour long programing competition. And it is going to be wrapping up Sunday tomorrow at 8 p.m.

Robin: Okay. And what kind of hacking is the thon doing?

JoAnna So every hackathon has a challenge. A goal that you are trying to meet. And they are competing for prizes. So they have a time limit, a deadline that they have to meet. And the challenge for this hackathon is to create something that is going to benefit internal county employees or the citizens at large. So any civic app that will benefit citizens or county employees. That’s what they are making.

Robin: So what kind of apps are people choosing to work on?

JoAnna Well, we don’t want to release the final product ideas yet, but I will give you some idea of what they are working on: So you have one team that is working on a parks and recreation app. You have another team that’s working on a mobile garage sale locator. We have another team that is working on a neighborhood watch, crime watch mobile app.

Robin: So these are all mobile apps.

JoAnna They have the choice of making a web or mobile app. It all depends on what they have time to accomplish, how fast they work.

Robin: So the apps, you say that some are going for mobile, and some are going for web, right? Mostly interactive type things?

JoAnna Yeah, you want to get some sort of interactivity. Because that’s what makes an app cool.

Robin: Now you mentioned prizes. What kind of prizes are we talking about?

JoAnna Okay, so I am happy to tell you about the prizes. We have cash prizes - for first, second, and third place. So the first place, they are going to get $250 a person, second place is going to get $100, and third place will get $50. And we are also giving out Raspberry Pi’s which are all the rage with developers, they let you modify your computers and other devices to make and do cool things.

Robin: Slashdot readers know what Raspberry Pi’s are. So how many people have signed up?

JoAnna We have over 90 preregistered and you expect about half of those to show up. So we’ve got a number, 45; a lot of those people are working remotely right now, but you will see it pick back up once we hit the deadline tomorrow.

Robin: So they came in, signed up, and zoomed off to work from home?

JoAnna Well what they do is at the start of the hackathon, we have an idea of brainstorming, that’s when they start networking, meeting people, and start forming teams, because you need at least these three basic things on your team, you need a developer to code the program, you need a designer to make the app look cool, and then you need an entrepreneur the idea guy that is going to put all the stuff together. So you have some items missing one of those, and so they have to get together and form the teams. And then they go off to work.

Robin: And then they bring it back?

JoAnna Yeah. They got until 4 p.m. to submit their product and then they are going to present it on a panel of judges and then we are going to see who wins.

Robin: And prizes are handed out on the spot?

JoAnna Yeah, we got them all.

Robin: This is the first one ever?

JoAnna For a county government yes.

[SUB-TITLE: Not quite true, Tampa held a Mayor’s Hackathon, June 2012]

Robin: Have other people done hackathons here?

JoAnna Oh yeah, hackathons are

Robin: No, I mean in the Tampa area.

JoAnna Oh yeah, yeah, but by private entities this is the first time that government is attempting to do something like this.


Robin: You are Ryan Holmes?

Ryan: Ryan Holmes.

Robin: And you are doing one of the Hillsborough County Hackathon

Ryan: I am participating in the hackathon.

Robin: Okay. Aare you going to win?

Ryan: We shall see. They are deliberating right now.

Robin: And your app is?

Ryan: It is called Hourly, it has been on Kickstarter, accepting fun projects for the time.

Robin: I think that’s really a great idea that you can volunteer time, because I am one of those people who works on some of the cleanups of things.

Ryan: Yeah.

Robin: And so do you think who’s going to fund this app?

Ryan: Who’s going to fund it?

Robin: This isn’t going to cost anything though is it really?

Ryan: Yeah, it is very simple to build, so it would be an open source type, give-to-the-community project unless Hillsborough County wanted to buy it.

Robin: Or at least fund it sometimes yeah.

Ryan: But it is real simple, one thing at a time.

Robin: One another thing, it is a great idea, I mean here is a thing? How did you come up with the idea?

Ryan: This idea I have been thinking about for this for a really long time. I think someone eventually will make into a very major way. I don’t think we are going to be those people though.

Robin: Really, why not?

Ryan: That is a good question I guess. We could. We could make it. But I don’t know, if the team wants to or we all have various things to do, some priorities, situations, there is a lot of different difficulties.

Robin: Now this actually has a money prize attached to this hackathon. I did not see that on the website.

Ryan: I didn’t see a lot of things on the website.

Robin: Me neither. How would you make it better for next year?

Ryan: A lot of people were complaining about the data, the information they sent us before, the event, the data was very general, like fire services data, animal services data. And any developer will tell you that they need very specific data. They just give very general data. So they could fix that. And everything is pretty solid.

Robin: I was shocked that the mention of a money prize wasn’t there; how did you find out about that?

Ryan: The money prize?

Robin: Yeah.

Ryan: I really didn’t know the specifics of it until he just announced it on the stage.

Robin: $250 per person on the winning team.

Ryan: I think it was $300.

Robin: Oh really, I heard $250.

Ryan: Something like that.

Robin: I hope you win. You have a great idea. Thanks so much.

Ryan: Thank you. I appreciate it.

[SUB-TITLE: But Ryan’s team didn’t win]


[SUB-TITLE: County Commissioner Mark Sharpe gave out the awards and posed with the winning teams]

Mark: badDog. Number Two Mobile-Solutions. And the winner Number One Pybulls. We posed problems, we asked you to participate and help us in coming up with new applications that will be used to again make our government more open. As [Ken Evans] said, this is about making our government more open and accessible to the people. Again, judges, thank you very much. Phenomenal event. Wonderful...

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Hillsborough County (FL) Hackathon is a Sign of Increasing Tech Awareness (Video

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