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NOOB: A First Timer's Account of Code for San Francisco Civic Hack Night

The sign outside Code for San Francisco, with instructions to get in the gate.

Color Hacking and Welcome

My very first Code for America Civic Hack Night began with pressing a buzzer to gain entry to the Code for America building in San Francisco’s SoMa district. A very welcoming receptionist greeted me and noticed right away that I was new. He pointed me towards the red name tags for newbies (as opposed to the blue name tags for returning attendees). The color coding of newbies and repeat attendees, plus the use of name tags in the first place, made it so much easier to strike up conversations with people and quickly learn why each attendee decided to spend their Wednesday night volunteering.

Welcome Remarks & Project Pitches

After the perfect amount of chitchat time, attendees were all encouraged to move into the Ben Franklin room where a presentation awaited us. We learned that Code for America, as a whole, is politically neutral (my personal favorite Hack Night fact). Included in the presentation was space for people to pitch new project ideas. Ambassadors from four teams pitched their projects by essentially just telling us the name of the project and what the team was currently working on. The four projects pitched were: CA Dept. of Justice OpenJustice Project, We Vote, SF Fire Risk Project, SF Crime Data, and Hack for Cities. The ambassadors asked for data scientists, data visualization developers, and other specific skillsets.

N00b Orientation

Next came the presentation just for n00bs (newbies)! The new hacker orientation included everyone introducing themselves by stating their names, their background, their favorite snack, and their skills they hoped to contribute (in most cases, a list of their tech stack skills). The presenter did an awesome job of encouraging newbies to take on anything they found interesting, and he mentioned the code of conduct that results in a safe space and incredibly supportive community for all. I was especially impressed by how excited the presenter was with my skillset (especially considering I mostly pitched myself as someone who could write, as an attorney, and as someone with basic HTML and Python skills). I happened to find the Data Science Working Group interesting, specifically the CA DoJ: OpenJustice Hypothesis Testing & Predictive Modeling project. The presenter then personally escorted me, along with a few other newbies who were interested in the project, over to the group's ambassador.

Hacking Away

To be honest, I did not write a single line of code during my first Code for America Civic Hack Night. The Data Science Working Group was interested in the prospect of someone writing a blog post, and I readily accepted the assignment. One of the members of the team suggested that I write a post on what it’s like to be a newcomer, so I ran with that. More importantly, I recognized that I could be especially useful in helping fellow newbies identify projects that would showcase their unique talents.

Important Takeaways

Code for SF recognizes that it takes more than developers for a project to succeed. One of the stated goals of the Data Science Working Group at Code for San Francisco is to set up each project such that every single person currently working on a project could leave the project and new people could easily come in and pick up where the previous team members left off. Code for SF is actively seeking people who are interested in working on fundraising, project management, and marketing. Most importantly, if you want to try your hand at a new skill, Code for SF is the perfect environment to get your feet wet!

Call to Action

Are you a tech project manager? Are you a designer? Are you a recent coding bootcamp grad? Are you a recent business school grad? Do you have any desire to try your hand at one of the many things I mentioned in this blog post? Even if you would just like to learn more about Code for SF, we would love to have you join us. We are actively seeking partners, both financial and the kind that can introduce us to people who might have interesting projects for us to work on. Join us on Meetup, and stop by Civic Hack Night at Code for America in San Francisco’s SoMa district on Wednesday nights from 6-10pm.

Thanks to Lauren Harriman for this first person account: @lmmharriman

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