Coders to Gather Saturday to Create Apps for Public Good

Feb 20, 2015

This Saturday, Carnegie Library in Oakland will be filled with groups of people hunched over tables “frowning” at their laptops and working to build web applications for the 2015 Steel City Codefest.

That’s according to Toby Greenwalt, director of digital strategy and technology integration at the library, who said the coders will be there all day and night.

“The Codefest is a 24-hour hack-a-thon designed to match up people with technical skills to civic organizations looking to perform acts of public good through technology and through data,” he said.

Greenwalt said they have received several dozen proposals from community groups and nonprofits expressing a need, and the competitors are going to create an app for one of the 12 finalists’ proposals.

The challenges from the 12 organizations range from creating a positive video game for Art Expression Inc. to creating an app enabling the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to “visualize” its stakeholder participation, interaction, gaps, trends and demographic data.

“What will happen, though, is that out of the about roughly hundred people participating, we’ll get this window down to five finalists, and the finalists will present, and we’ll choose the winning app on Sunday afternoon,” he said.

The grand prize winner will receive consultation to further develop their app on an on-going basis, but Greenwalt said there will also be cash prizes for the winners as well as an audience participation award. 

“Our mindset with this is that it doesn’t end on Sunday because these are apps for civic good,” he said. “We want to make sure that we can help iterate and expand on them to make them even better.”

He said one of the winning apps developed during last year’s competition enabled Planned Parenthood to provide resources and information about women’s health issues. 

This is the first year the Carnegie Library will be hosting the event, opening it up to the public. Therefore, Sunday will also include coding programs and workshops aimed at children and teenagers.

Greenwalt said more and more decisions are being made because of robust data collection, so events such as this are important to show the public how to create and utilize it.

“And the more you can understand how to interpret and act through this type of data literacy, the better off you’re going to be able to participate in public life and the better off you’re going to be in understanding how things happen in the world,” Greenwalt said.