When Caitlin Augustin signed up for her first DataKind hackathon in 2016, she was pushing forward a family tradition of volunteerism.
At the time, she was a University of Miami graduate student studying environmental science and policy after receiving her bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.
The thought that she could use her skillset to make a difference intrigued her.
“The idea that we could use our coding and technical skills to make a change in our neighborhoods completely hooked me as a volunteer,” said Augustin, who returned to Orlando in 2019 after graduate school in Miami and a stint in New York. “DataKind hackathons always amaze me. Dozens of people come together with a common goal and always have such an energy and a desire to make an impact.”
DataKind returns to Orlando on Friday, with the three-day event set for Credo Conduit (more details below).
The event will tackle three specific problems: food insecurity, funding gaps in affordable housing and investment in early childhood education and care through data.
DataKind’s ‘tech for good’ returns to Orlando
DataKind’s last Orlando event was held in 2021. VISIT DATAKIND WEBSITE
That hackathon created tools to address the urban digital divide, policy change and gender equity.
A city grant made that virtual event possible for DataKind.
“Working with a geographic focus in mind, we knew the problems we wanted to focus on were local problems and ones where a solution could have a positive impact on the community,” said Augustin, now VP for product and programs at DataKind.
About 11 years ago, DataKind founder Jake Portway received an overwhelming response to an initial call for a DataKind hackathon.
The idea was for programmers and technologists to volunteer to solve a civic problem within one weekend.
The thought was that people wanted to use their skills for good but did not know how to do so.
The so-called “DataDives” provided an outlet.
“DataKind harnessed a lot of the early 2010s excitement around hackathons and coding challenges,” Augustin said. “But they make the outcomes about social impact, rather than just cash prizes or corporate growth as is so common.”
The event allows those with limited resources some benefits.
For one, the tools will allow them to explore data.
In addition, they can grow the civic ecosystem and develop meaningful technology through rapid prototyping and analysis.
“With a problem and a collaboration identified, we felt strongly about finding the right philanthropic partners to help support building the solution,” Augustin said.
JASKY Foundation involved
That’s where local tech leaders Jacques and Yvonne Fu became involved.
They supported the “tech for good” effort through their JASKY Foundation.
“If we can use technology in innovative ways to solve our most complex problems, we can be an example for others to follow,” Jacques Fu said. “Central Florida, demographically, looks a lot like the rest of the country.”
Fu has been on Orlando’s technology scene ever since 2014 as one of the first Stax employees, then known as Fattmerchant.
“If we can run pilot programs that make an impact here, we solve problems in our local community but can also take them across the country,” he said.
How you can help
Augustin said the community can help in a number of ways, beyond amplifying the message before the event.
At the event, volunteers of all categories – developers, analysts, engineers, community perspective, researchers, testers – would help the event go smoothly.
Beyond that, DataKind could use donations and continual engagement with the projects, Augustin said.
DataKind, a global nonprofit, has been hosting hackathons since its creation in 2012 in New York City. It’s an entirely virtual organization and collaborates with local groups – in this case, Orlando Devs and JASKY – to host events.
A collaborative project with the American Red Cross provided insights into electrical fires.
The effort led to a bigger project in Chicago.
Then, the group created a formal tool alongside the Red Cross that helps prevent and react to electrical fires.
“This hackathon is the start of a journey,” Augustin said. “Rather than hacking a weekend and having no path forward, DataKind can keep the work moving forward.”
“The most amazing part is you can show how data can work with existing great work others are doing,” she said.
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