When it comes to engaging with your local developer community, it’s easy to jump to the hackathon as the one-size-fits-all solution. Hackathons are great and they provide a valuable opportunity to network with and inspire local talent, but they’re not the only tool in your developer engagement toolbox. To break out of that rut, let’s discuss a few other options you can and should explore.
Almost every night of the week, in most medium to large cities, there is at least one developer meetup already scheduled. Usually hosted by local coffee shops, tech companies, or bars, they are a great opportunity for developers to get together, discuss their craft, and network with like-minded individuals. Some meetups are focused on particular programming languages or technologies. Others are centered around using technologies to solve social or governmental problems. While some emphasize speakers and presentations, others provide a chance for developers to work on their projects in a collaborative environment where they can ask questions and get assistance from others. But, they all provide a great opportunity for government and community leaders to reach a motivated group of individuals and share with them the problems that exist in your local community and the resources you could provide in order for them to help you solve these issues.
How do you find these local groups? One of the best places to look is Meetup. The “tech” and “community & environment” topics are a great start. Look for events in your area that seem popular, and watch for civic-focused events like Code for America Brigades. Reach out to the organizer and offer to give a short talk about the needs of your organization, or the data and skills you can provide. Stick around to network and answer questions, and watch the magic happen!
High Schools, Universities, & Developer Bootcamps
One untapped resource is local educational organizations. There are a number of opportunities to encourage the incorporation of open data or civic involvement into the curriculum:
- Contact local high schools or universities to see if open data could be used to provide real-world examples for math or statistics courses. Students may help you discover things about your data that surprise you.
- Work with university professors or the organizers of developer bootcamps like Code Fellows or App Academy to pitch open data or civic-focused projects as topics for practicum or capstone projects. Students need interesting projects to work on; why not convince them to work on yours?
- Reach out to universities to find opportunities to give a talk about the value of open data and civic development. The price for a captive audience is often just a few pizzas.
It may take a little bit of creativity and some legwork, but there’s a huge amount of untapped creativity and energy in your local schools.
Online Communities and Social Media
You can make connections with your local development community without ever leaving your desk by tapping into existing online communities. Find local online communities to tap into existing networks of passionate residents:
- Reddit, for example, maintains an index of location-specific forums for many localities around the world. Those local Reddits can provide an opportunity to discuss and debate the needs of the community, reach out with questions, or promote local events.
- LocalWiki is building a network of community-focused “mini-Wikipedias” around the world. In many cases, they incorporate open data, and they can always use help expanding their resources.
Engage with local developers and community leaders on Twitter and watch for interesting local trends.
Tying It All Together
Engaging with your local developer community is a critical part of a successful open data program. It will provide you with an invaluable opportunity to spread the word about your efforts, inspire a wider audience to solve real citizen needs, and gain you real-world feedback about how you can improve. Hopefully this article has given you a few new tools and ideas on how to do so beyond the traditional hackathon.