Working in newspapers was an education in civics, and in hacking. Chi Hack Night helped me put the two together.
As Chi Hack Night marks its 5th anniversary this week, its role in Chicago's tech community and civic life , and I'm personally grateful for its endurance.
At a 2014 Blue1647 hackathon, Daniel X. O'Neil introduced me to a weekly event called Open Gov Hack Night. The co-founder of the EveryBlock community was showing off a flashy set of online zoning maps in vivid heliotrope hues. Sure, not all of us are turned on by zoning maps. But what really excited him was that they were volunteer collaborations. So I was sold on visiting the room where it happens: a classroom in 1871, the Merchandise Mart's wing for tech founders.
Open Gov Hack Night was a typical after-hours meetup, except that the hackers hung around after pizza to work on civic-minded joint projects. When I started dropping in before my night shift, the regulars were either developers like co-founder Derek Eder with newspaper clients or writers like Steven Vance who coded on the side. These alpha hackers showed their work on sites to allocate vacant city lots or track neighborhood construction sites.
But Hack Night was not just for hackers. Lawyer Maryam Judar explained rulings of the state's Public Access Counselor, which she had indexed in a Google doc. A deck on the Chicago Public Schools' responsive web redesign from designer Jay Van Patten could have been presented at any parent-teacher meeting, though it was a heroic in-house feat in buttoned-down Sharepoint web software. No matter their technical expertise, presenters always had time to compare notes—no matter that I was between projects.