Hackathons and DataDives

The Data Events DC calendar currently shows three Hackathons and DataDives over the next few months, and at least one other will be posted shortly. But what is a Hackathon or a DataDive? How are they different? And why would a data professional be interested? Hackathons are intense events, usually held over several days, where people try to creatively solve problems and prototype products, often software products. They usually have stakeholders or sponsors with problems to solve and prize money to award. Participants see presentations about the event's goals, then self-organize into teams to work. After a couple of days (and often nights) of work, fueled typically by caffeine and pizza, the teams present their work and a winner is announced.

DataDives are similar, but are focused on analysis of data rather than development of products. The term was coined by the folks at DataKind a few years ago when they were trying to distinguish their events, where statisticians and data scientists team up to work pro bono on nonprofit data, from often entrepreneurial Hackathons.

So why would you, as a data professional, want to lose an entire weekend to one of these? Here are a few reasons:

  • DataDives for nonprofits and Open Data Hackathons for the public sector are a great way to give back to the community. You have great skills -- put them to use for more than just a paycheck.
  • These events are insanely good networking opportunities. You won't just be swapping business cards, you'll be working side-by-side with people in different industries, with different skill sets, in a way that's otherwise impossible.
  • You'll learn a lot -- about technology, about data, about the problem domain. Expect to have new tools in your toolkit by the end of the weekend.
  • The experience of creatively exploring a problem or a data set in a team environment, with intense time pressure, can be very fun and rewarding on its own.
  • Projects don't always just last 36 hours. Many Hackathons turn into real products, commercial or open-source. And many DataDives turn into positive long-term engagements with nonprofits. Check out the amazing results that started at a DC DataDive last year!
  • Adrenaline and caffeine are great drugs. Free pizza/food.
  • Who knows -- you might win something!

So what's coming up?

Next weekend, January 26th-27th, is a Hackathon focused around issues of domestic violence in Central America. Many of the needs are around technology and software development, but there are some data-focused projects as well. The event is at sites across Central America, as well as here in DC, at the World Bank.

The Bicoastal Datafest, February 2nd-3rd, is organized in part by the Sunlight Foundation, a DC nonprofit focused on government transparency. Participants will dive into campaign contribution data to suggest ways of understanding and communicating the role of money in politics. The DataDive is in NYC and at Stanford, or virtual participants are welcome. There's plenty of time for a DC-based team to find nonvirtual space too -- contact us if you'd like to organize this!

Open Data Day is an international hackathon around government data on Saturday, February 23rd, with events held around the world. The DC event is currently sold out, but the organizers are looking for a larger venue where they'll be able to accommodate the amazing number of interested people. Registration is once again open for the DC event!

Check back soon for an announcement around another DC-centric DataDive, this one to be held in March, dealing with international development data! And even more hackathons are expected in coming months. Subscribe to this blog or our events calendar, or follow DC2 on Twitter to be sure not to miss any announcements.

Had a good experience around a Hackathon or DataDive? Know of an event we don't yet have listed? Please post a comment!