Judging hackers

GOOD TECH ISSUE: Social Good Hackathon wants nerds, Luddites...and even the Guardian

Guardian illustration by Matthew Fleming


The Bay Guardian is happy to announce a partnership with BeMyApp, CloudCamp, Hewlett Packard, and Intel in launching a hackathon for societal benefit. I will be one of the judges of their CloudCamp Social Good Hackathon the weekend of Jan. 24.

The hackathon is a contest tasking programmers and designers with creating apps that could change their city, state, country, or the world. Teams will craft those changes around health, fitness, the environment, and education. The Guardian has always been solutions based, and we hope to work with tech to help solve the problems of San Francisco's rising displacement and inequality together.

Entrance in the hackathon is free, though space is limited. The first and second prizes are $5,000 and $4,000, respectively. Hackers will strut their ones and zeroes at Impact Hub San Francisco, which is housed in the bottom floor of the San Francisco Chronicle Building on Fifth and Mission.

Kalina Machlis, community manager at BeMyApp, said the Guardian was a natural choice to partner with them due to our often critical stance on the tech community: We'd keep them honest. She also hoped it would help build ties with a media community that can be critical of the tech industry.

"It's a good way for you to see there are positive things happening in the tech world," she told us. And though no one app can solve all of San Francisco's social ills, we hope this can be a first step toward harnessing tech for the good of all the city's residents.

Be advised, you don't necessarily need to be a tech head to join in. Just bring your ideas, Machlis told us. "Our initial idea for beginning the company was to bring together people who don't have technical skills with people who design and code," she said.

We're looking forward to bringing a bit of Guardian fire to a hub of techies who want to change the world. For every Greg Gopman spewing hatred, no doubt there are tech-savvy folk who care about the less fortunate around them. We want to meet those socially conscious hackers.


Posted by generic_ on Jan. 21, 2014 @ 7:27 pm

I don't understand how you can choose a winner without actually testing it in the real world. Sounds like the one that is presented the best (I can just hear all the barfy hype buzzword spewing already) is the one that will "win". I've participated in similar #hackforgood in the recent past and have gathered that reality has very little use for any of the effort.

Ugh to "hackathons".

Stay critical, Fitz.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 21, 2014 @ 7:42 pm

It's basically the same thing that Gopman's company does, and that's probably just a scheme to milk some gullible VC's. Good for him, I suppose. I hope he burns through their money real good, and then I hope they sue him for some sort of fraud against rich people (fraud against rich people has got to be a big crime) and have him thrown in jail. That way both he and his "victims" will get just what they deserve.

There are real hackers who have the capacity to do tremendous good, like Anonymous and Julian Assange, but you won't find them at these "hackathons."

Posted by Greg on Jan. 21, 2014 @ 8:13 pm

I was at this hackathon and I have to point out that the winner did indeed go out and test it in the real world. Impressively, they built a working prototype and worked directly with community members in the space of the two day hack. They had actual community clients signed up and had used the prototype. This is for a Food Bank app - that is social good. When they presented their idea it was very clear how much good it would do.

As a non-profit "idea generator", our project did not win anything because we did not have all the ducks in a row as Foodjoy did. BUT to say no good came of it is ridiculous. All of the folks on my team are still committed to completing the project regardless of winning or not. My nonprofit will have a new tool to server our audience because of an opportunity like this to bring this unique blend of people together.

Finally, when you are working directly with idea generators whose real job is working for good in the community, we already know what our community needs are. Who better to understand what kind of tool to create for our audiences.

I am not saying this was the end all be all, nor that it was perfect, but I do have to advocate for the fact that this type of event invites a whole new set of ideas to be heard. Innovation is about combining older knowledge with diverse new perspectives.

Posted by HB.HG.DC on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

It's almost impossible to test a two day hack in the real world. So, understanding you can't do that, are these things still useful? I would say yes, if only for getting people together with similar passions. Think of it as a long mixer or meet up, for like-minded people. And if it encourages an entrepreneur or even conceivably launches a company, so much the better. Sure - it's not a full product development cycle. I don't see why you'd have a problem with that.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

I attended this event, and I was astounded at how unprofessional the whole thing was. Those "in the know" had already gobbled up all the "idea generator" tickets by Wednesday at 3pm, which effectively eliminated "community" participation. The game show format was juvenile. The ideas involving social justice got the least votes.
I would be astounded if any "social good" results from this event.

But, there were lots of beautiful women, and free pizza.....

Posted by TrollKiller on Jan. 28, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

I just wanted to take a moment thank you for the compliment on behalf of all of us women at the event. :)

(You can see my comments related to social good above.)

Posted by HB.HG.DC on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

I was at the event, too. Let me tell you, I was an "idea generator" and I was definitely NOT in the know. This was my first hackathon, I'm not a coder, and I got an idea generator ticket off the wait list. So there was definitely community participation, and after that only 1/3rd of the idea generators actually got to form teams through a combination of judge selections and participant voting.

Let me say that in the world of hackers, this hackathon was generous to allow non-technical idea generators in at all, because frankly, great coders have lots of ideas about stuff they can build. They don't really need people like me. (Though my idea was great, and I was really excited to work on it…) In my case, too, my team has decided to come together again this coming weekend at another hackathon and try to continue our good work.

I don't know what the OP meant by "game show format," and I haven't been to other hhackathons (yet), but I wasn't surprised by anything I saw. Some of it wasn't my cup of tea (there was a drone race while we were racing to finish our app) but I think that's just a decision by the organizers to keep it fresh and light and fun.

The biggest downsides I saw were some operational issues around managing process and time, but that was way overshadowed by having the opportunity to meet a bunch of interesting new people, learn some stuff, work on a cool idea and have it examined by a panel-- some with pretty insightful questions and criticisms.

My two cents, but it was awesome for me, and (I think) most of my team.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

I am a 32 year old white male who owns a start up. I fully understand people's issues and problems with the tech industry seemingly catering to my demographic and not doing greater good. THAT IS EXACTLY WHY I WENT TO THIS HACKATHON. Complaining is one thing, seeing the positive and doing something about it is another. My team built www.getfeedjoy.com. It is a service that optimizes the resources and giving of food banks, which needs optimization. This event, and the hosts, allowed me to collaborate and build and launch this. The site has already fed people. This event was enormously positive in tangible, real world ways. to say otherwise is absurd.
Thank you for your time.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

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