entrepreneurship, Experience, Experiment, Failing, Focus, hackathon, hustle, Improvement, IT, Learning Lessons, Technology, Trying, Zoning

Why Hackathons Are Awesome: Hacking Detroit’s Zoning Code

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.

In addition, hackathons harness this focus on your passion. For me, I am passionate about learning new technology and cities. In this case, I am learning JavaScript and the React library and trying to understand/solve a problem related to city zoning (more on this soon). This hackathon’s theme is cities, but other hackathons may be more open or have a different theme. Either way, I suggest trying a hackathon that aligns to something you are passionate about.  

Engaging Problem

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.

Great People

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

Group getting ready for the Inaugural Detroit Civic Hackathon in September 2019

Hustle Estate

Hustle Estate – Holiday Slow Down, Speeds Up – Ep 17

Happy holidays to all our followers, real estate entrepreneurs and business creators out there! Sometimes the holidays don’t slow down, what happens when you need a break? Find out in our recent episode!

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7 Habits, Leadership, Self-Awareness

Are you working on the most valuable story?

“Suppose you wanted to arrive at a specific location in central Chicago. A street map of the city would be a great help to you in reaching your destination. But suppose you were given the wrong map. Through a printing error, the map labeled “Chicago” was actually a map of Detroit. Can you imagine the frustration, the ineffectiveness of trying to reach your destination?

 You might work on your behavior—you could try harder, be more diligent, double your speed. But your efforts would only succeed in getting you to the wrong place faster.

 You might work on your attitude—you could think more positively. You still wouldn’t get to the right place, but perhaps you wouldn’t care. Your attitude would be so positive, you’d be happy wherever you were.

The point is, you’d still be lost. The fundamental problem has nothing to do with your behavior or your attitude. It has everything to do with having a wrong map.

If you have the right map of Chicago, then diligence becomes important, and when you encounter frustrating obstacles along the way, then attitude can make a real difference. But the first and most important requirement is the accuracy of the map. 

Each of us has many, many maps in our head, which can be divided into two main categories: maps of the way things are, or realities, and maps of the way things should be, or values.” [Quoted from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; emphasis mine]

Recently, I started reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey. The book starts out describing two social paradigms:

  1. Character Ethic (aka your map) – the primary principles of effective living and the only way people can truly find success and happiness

  2. Personality ethic (aka your attitudes and behaviors) – secondary techniques used to bolster the character ethic, but only effective if you truly understand what character ethic principles you need to change.

When we talk about working on valuable or impactful work, have you thought that maybe YOU are the most valuable work? Going a step further, how do you know if you are working on the right parts of yourself? If you are able to raise your level of awareness, like the book discusses, you will understand that focusing on your map (the character ethic) will provide you with a foundation for change and success.

If you want to change your current situation, first look at yourself and think about what you need to change about yourself to change the situation for the better.

My challenge for you: for one day this week, take the time to think about your actions and make sure you’re working on yourself as the most valuable starting point.

Goals, Leadership

Shredding Down Goal Mountain


Last week, I traveled with some of my best childhood friends to go skiing in Colorado. We spent three amazing days skiing Keystone, Vail and A-Basin. After each day of skiing I felt mentally refreshed and ready to take on the next monumental mountain.

When we finished our last day of skiing, I mentioned to my friends that when I was skiing down down the mountain I only thought about skiing. My mind was clear of all other thoughts. My friend responded, ‘you can free your mind because you are so focused on that one goal ahead of you. Making it down the mountain, alive.’

We laughed but there is a lot of truth behind his comment.  A clear and measurable focus is critical to achieving your goals.

Skiing illustrated three major aspects of having a clear and measurable focus that can translate into the office.  

  1. Have a clear and measurable end in mind, like making it down the mountain alive and uninjured.
    • In technology, one of my team’s goal is to eliminate manual testing for our PDF documents by the end of 2017
  2. When you’re going down the mountain and you come to a cliff, you may need to pivot and try a different route to arrive at your goal.
    • As we work to eliminate manual testing, we will try a number of different methods to automate the testing of documents. We’ve tried using GUI automation to trigger a CompareDocs tool we use in our system. We are also working on finding ways to compare XMLs that are created versus what is expected. The key here is to constantly tinker and try different routes.
  3. After you pivot away from the cliff, be mentally and physically prepared for any situation that may come up, like sharp turns and other steep slopes.
    • It can be physically and mentally taxing to work hard on something and find out that route you just tried isn’t going to work out. When you pivot and it doesn’t go well, be prepared to try again, work a few extra hours, invest more time to learn what you don’t know and sometimes put on a good face when you are disappointed.

Keeping these aspects in mind while planning and working through your goals will only increase your ability to shred down bigger mountains!


(all photos in this post are mine)