By Jordan Ellett
What does ATX Hack For Change do?
ATX Hack For Change was created by Dr. Waldron, St. Edward’s Vice President for Technology, and has been an annual on in Austin since 2013. The event was organized in response to to the National Day of Civic Hacking, a White House initiative working to inspire citizens to come together and improve their communities. This event works to attack the unique issues facing our beautifully weird city, anything like feeding the homeless to aggregating data to determine where our sidewalks should be built. It’s a 3-day event hosted on the St. Edward’s University campus where hackers work on various projects.
“Hacker” can be an intimidating word, but students who attend do not have to have any technical experience–other skills can be a major asset to a multitude of projects the organization undergoes. ATX Hack For Change is the perfect place for students to acquire skills needed to succeed in the workforce, including working in a team environment and working under tight schedules. Ashley DiStefano, an event organizer for ATX Hack for Change, says that they strive for inclusiveness while empowering the community to seek solutions for the problems facing Austin. They believe that anyone can hack and everyone has the right to a fulfilled life. ATX Hack for Change works with non-profits, technology companies, and St. Edward’s students, faculty, and staff. DiStefano also says that it is both a challenge and a success that every year they start from scratch with sponsors, recruitment, and projects, but it makes it a fun challenge to create the projects that enrich the lives of the people in Austin.
What do you get out of participating in ATX Hack For Change?
A “hackathon” is an event where individuals work in teams in order to create working software prototypes or products addressing a specific project or need. This event is an ideal learning experience for forming ideas and executing concepts, customer needs analysis, feature specification, and prototyping. It teaches skills, supports local government, nonprofits, and other community groups. Furthermore, ATX Hack For Change exposes participants to community issues and local voices that they might have never heard otherwise by serving as a bridge between the non-technical and technical communities in Austin.
There are many major organizations that sponsor the annual hackathon, including:
• U.S. Department of Defense and NYU’s national security technology accelerator, called MD5, worked with MIT and the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America – “Advanced Functional Fabrics in Challenging Environments”
• Daimler at the International Motor Show targeted artificial intelligence and automotive solutions
• American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders addressed refugee challenges
• Many of the major software technology platform vendors such as IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Cisco offer hackathons, hackathon kits and/or developer resources
Past Hack for Change projects include:
• Virtual Reality Fractions Game: An educational platform to teach coding for python for youth.
• OpenCurrents: Provides software for nonprofits to record volunteer hours and gives out rewards to their volunteers that are redeemable at local vendors.
• Bike/Ped Safety Mapping: Strengthening the sidewalks and street mapping across the city to make it safer for bikers and pedestrians.
• Internet of Bees: Created an app for apiarists to share data about their hives in order to help save the bees.
• Keep Austin Fed: Created a website and other tech solutions to help get food to the mouths of those in need faster.
How does ATX Hack For Change contribute to the St. Edward’s community?
ATX Hack For Change helps students become more active citizens in the Austin community. They are exposed to the current state of our city and actively work with others to create beneficial change. It also encourages future generations to mindfully give back and donate their skills and social good projects while still instilling the importance of collaboration. While not only working to solve the issues occurring in Austin, the hackathon provides students with a space to acquire skills necessary to thrive in the workforce after graduation.
How can students get involved?
For more information about ATX Hack for Change, you can check out their website,where you can register for the next hackathon, as well as look at upcoming events and past projects. You can also look at their Facebook page, Twitter, and Youtube channel for more information.