For the last two months, I participated in a monthly hackathon event called the Detroit Civic Hackathon (next one is November 12!). These were the first two installments of what is becoming a monthly event that originated from a monthly happy hour meet up called The Detroit Urban Tech Meetup.
These past two events were great! The past few days I reflected on why these two hackathons were awesome.
Focus On Your Passion
First, hackathons are awesome because they enable a large amount of dedicated focus. In my day-to-day work, I do not spend more than 2-4 hours focused on something, unless I am working outside of the normal 9-5 business hours – I get interrupted way to often. Hackathon’s are special because they allow you to block out the world and spend deliberate time working on whatever problem you are trying to solve.
For these past two hackathons, I was excited to be taking on a problem that was challenging and exciting to me – zoning codes. Zoning is something you may not think about but impacts the way many cities in the US are currently laid out. For example, zoning laws usually prevent a strip club from being built or operating next to a middle school (crude example but I think it makes the example very clear). In general, zoning regulates a city and town’s land use by permitting or prohibiting certain uses based on the zoning codes.
One problem is that most zoning ordinances are not easily accessible. Zoning laws and ordinances can be hundreds of PDF pages long and each zone can be extremely hard and sometimes costly to understand. This is Detroit’s Zoning ordinance – it’s a light read 😜.
Our idea, spearheaded by a guy who was passionate about this topic, is to help make this information easier to access and digest. Our idea is to create basic website that helps take this information out of the PDF and puts it into a more user-friendly web format.
The last major reason hackathons are awesome is because of the people you meet. Each event I met new and passionate individuals. Some of them are working on this zoning project, others have their own interests and projects. I met a data scientist who works at Ford but is from the Middle East where he used to be banker. I met an MIT graduate who engineered autonomous vehicles for a company that was purchased by Ford. I met a transit advocate who does design work for the Regional Chamber. Lastly, Jimmy, the guy spearheading this idea, works for the city of Detroit. He is a huge city, transit and do the right thing advocate. Also, he is a talented web engineer. It is always great to be surrounded by people that want to do great things and in an area that you are passionate in.
Try One and Check Out Our Project!
These are three reasons I believe hackathons are awesome. I participated in several of them over the years and I love focusing on learning, working on things I am passionate about and meeting great people along the way. I strongly recommend you try a hackathon to see what it is like. If you have similar or different thoughts, let me know! I’d love to hear what you think.
PS – Jimmy made some great updates yesterday and this project is already leaps and bounds exceeding my expectations. Check it out here: Zoning Guide Detroit