I remember attending my first hackathon one year ago. Time has flown by since, but it was Code for Philly’s Democracy Hackathon. I certainly remember how anxious I was. While I had attended a small number of meetups, I didn’t know anyone in the Philly tech scene. I prepared for DemHack by reading every blog post I could about what to expect for a hackathon. Thinking back on it now, some were helpful, some were not.

Code for Philly launchpad events are special, meant to ignite long term civic engagement, and foster the development of unique solutions to civic opportunities. To help first time attendees, I’ve created a reference guide to prepare and familiarize with how CELaunchpad will work.

What to do before you attend

You’ve taken the plunge and signed up for an event you’re not totally sure about. First: Good for you. It’s brave to put yourself out there with events like this. Second: Thank you! You’ve done the first thing you needed to before attending. Here are a few more tasks for your pre-launchpad to-do list:

Sign up for the Code for Philly Slack

We communicate through Slack, a lot. It’s a fun, convenient, and free channel to communicate outside of our typical in-person meetups. Inside Slack, we have a CELaunchpad channel for communicating about this event. Each project will create their own channel to communicate in. It’s important to have a Code for Philly Slack account.

To create an account: Sign up for an account on CodeforPhilly.org. Log into your account on Codeforphilly.org. Click the Chat with us on Slack button. You’ll be redirected to the Slack sign-in page. Just click the single sign-on button and you’re in! For anyone new to Slack, here’s a helpful guide to some fun things you can do. (Pro tip: the “/giphy …” command will be used. A lot.)

Get a Github account

One of the Code for Philly Project Guidelines is that every Code for Philly project needs to be Open Source. This means the source code needs to be available for people to see and access that aren’t working on the project. Github is where these files will be stored. Even if you’re not coding the backend, you should be able to access the files for your project. If you’re going to be recruiting for new project members, they’ll need to find these files.

Project Management Tools

If you’re familiar with Project Management tools, you probably have a favorite. We’re not going to endorse one, but wanted to let people know about them. It will help to look into these to get a feel for them. Once your project team organizes, the team should collectively decided on which one to use. Check out more information about Project Management.

Trello A kanban board that allows you to track progress of tasks Asana Collaborative tasks lists and file storage Waffle.io A kanban board that connects with your Github repo

There are so many Project Management tools available online. These three are popular ones, but if you have something you prefer, stick with that.

Tim Wisniewski writing out an idea for Ward Leader Baseball Cards
Tim Wisniewski writing out an idea for Ward Leader Baseball Cards

What to Expect

The CELaunchpad has four main parts of the event:

  • Project Brainstorming
  • Project Day
  • Month of building
  • Project Demo Night

Here’s what to expect for each of these components

Project Brainstorming

We’ll meet at City Hall’s Caucus Room to share ideas. This night is pretty social, with members of multiple communities coming together, not just technologists. It’s a really cool space, and we’re excited to be able to use it again this year.

Getting there: The guest entrance for City Hall is in the Northeast corner. It’s across the street from the Residence Inn. Once inside City Hall the guard can direct you, and we’ll have signs to help you get to the Caucus Room.

North East entrance to City Hall. Picture from Google Maps, edited by Angela Andrews
North East entrance to City Hall. Picture from Google Maps, edited by Angela Andrews

What you’ll be doing: Ideas and problem statements already submitted will be on boards for people to collaborate on. If you have an idea not yet submitted, please share it! All ideas are on a large sheet of paper, meaning you get to write responses, questions, thoughts, or concerns. We’ll provide stickers to upvote ideas that you think should be worked on, even if you don’t plan on working on it yourself. You’ll also be able to talk to community members who aren’t technologists. These people are invaluable to giving insights for problems they know about in their neighborhood. Ask them questions, try to find ways that you know technology could help. You may even see some city council members stop by.

What to bring: _Photo ID is required to enter City Hall_Your ideas and problem solving skills.

What we’ll be doing: We’ll interrupt briefly for short talks. We don’t want to interrupt too much, so we’ll be brief. Tonight is all about collaborating on ideas and ideating on solutions.

We’ll have some light snacks and drinks.

Teamwork in the Innovation Lab
Teamwork in the Innovation Lab

Project Day

This is the day we get to roll up our sleeves and get to work. We’ll be in the Innovation Lab in Philadelphia’s Municipal Services Building (MSB).

Getting there: MSB is across the street from City Hall. Photo ID is required to enter MSB. It’s the building with the board game pieces out front, including the Frank Rizzo statue. It’s up on the 16th floor, giving great views of City Hall. You’ll use the main entrance to check in with the front desk. Take the elevator up, and follow signs for the Innovation Lab. We’ll have signs here, too.

What you’ll be doing: You’ll be arriving early in the morning and checking in. You’ll get your t-shirt and breakfast. We’re committed to helping project teams start off on the right footing. We’re really excited to have Eliza Pollack’s team from the Office of Innovation and Technology leading an Innovation Workshop. Once the programming has ended, projects will have the rest of the time to get to work. There will be mentors available, and food provided. Time to hack away!

What to bring: Photo ID to get into the building. Your laptop, something to take notes, and energy. You’ll probably be tired at the end of the day, but the good tired after accomplishing something.

What we’ll doing: With the help of awesome sponsors, we’ll be providing food. We’ll also be available to help where needed. Important announcements will be shared through the #CELaunchpad Slack channel-get ready for voting by emoji. Really, this day will be less about what we’re doing, and making sure we’re helping you do what you’re doing.

Apps for Sustainability 2015
Apps for Sustainability 2015

Month of Building

This is less structured for now. We’ll be communicating with participants through the #CELaunchpad Slack channel to schedule CELaunchpad only hack nights. These aren’t required, but offered to support as needed. We will also have website content to support projects, which we’ll share on Slack as well.

Our regular weekly schedule will continue during this month. Check out our Meetup page for weekly events. The open house on March 28th will provide a chance for teams to recruit extra volunteers if needed.

Project Demo Night

Wow, a month has flown by! It’s time to show off your work. We’re so excited to see the culmination of collaboration.

Getting there: Right now the details are being finalized. We’ll make sure to let everyone know when we lock this down.

What you’ll be doing: Showing off your work to a panel of distinguished local experts to get feedback on where to take this project. They’re not there to grade, but to offer insights to help your idea develop. You’ll also get to see the progress of all the participants.

What to bring: A slide show of your work. Depending on the space, we’ll let you know about anything additional.

What we’ll doing:* We’ll make sure the panel will be comprised of people that will give helpful feedback. We’ll also provide food and drinks.

Further Questions

If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Reach out in the #CELaunchpad Slack channel, social media, or in person at one of the events. We’re here to help your work.

All photos by Chris Kendig, unless otherwise noted.