Let's talk about OpenHack

OpenHack is an idea by Nick Quaranto (@qrush) of 37signals with a simple goal: get people from around the world together in their local communities to hack on anything. The project has ramped up in popularity in recent months, with many cities opening their own chapters. So far, there are OpenHack chapters available in:

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Austin, TX
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Beijing, China
  • Birmingham, AL
  • Boston, MA
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbia, SC
  • Columbus, OH
  • Fort Wayne, IN
  • Green Bay, WI
  • Honolulu, HI
  • Houghton, MI
  • Iowa City, IA
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Jersey City, NJ
  • Kontich, Belgium
  • Louisville, KY
  • Miami, FL
  • New York City, NY
  • Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Providence, RI
  • Rochester, NY
  • Santa Barbara, CA
  • Taipei, Taiwan
  • Toledo, OH
  • Toronto, ON
  • Tulsa, OK
  • Vancouver, BC
  • Waterloo, ON
  • Windsor, ON

(Hey, San Francisco, where's yours!? :-) )

The idea is simple: get any local developer(s) of any language or framework to come together once or twice a month to pair program (or solo program if they choose) on any project they want. Bring your laptop and a project, or just show up and pair with some one on theirs. This gets developers a chance to work on side projects (or work or open source projects if they like), a chance to get out of the office, coffee shop or living room, and meet their counterparts. It helps a cross-technology community form, where members can lean on each other for help in learning new concepts, programming languages or other technologies, and provides them a chance to network with each other. You never know when a person knows another person who can help you (or you can help them) with an issue they're having.

Announcing OpenHack Austin

Since I live in Austin, Texas, I decided it was high time we had an OpenHack of our own. With some help from the local community, Damon Clinkscales [@damon] of Austin on Rails, Capital Factory, a local startup incubator, and Engine Yard, I've started OpenHack, Austin.If you're in Austin and looking for a chance to meet with other local developers across a wide range of development technologies and frameworks (any/all languages/technologies welcome), sling some code and have fun in the process, you should come out to Austin's first OpenHack on Wednesday, January 30th at 7PM downtown at Capital Factory (701 Brazos). The OpenHack Austin mailing list is also available to local hackers to talk about all things OpenHack and/or code.

Why you should start an OpenHack in your community (and why I started one in Austin, TX)

Having an OpenHack “chapter” in your local metro community can help you and other developers meet. Maybe you're a Rubyist but you have an interest in Python, for example - an OpenHack night might be a great chance to pair with a Python developer and learn about the language. It's also a great way to meet new people who do work similar to your own, learn from them, help them, and work on your own side projects, possibly getting help from others in the process.

It's also worth noting that similar initiatives are already in place in some cities, and in several cases those can be the beginning point for new startups. In fact, Cafe Bedouins in Austin, a potentially smaller, slightly less structured version of OpenHack, has had at least two known local area startups (Union Metrics, who later relocated to San Francisco, but maintains a development office in Austin, and Mass Relevance who still operates out of downtown Austin) emerge from it just by virtue of giving local hackers a place and time to meet and get to know each other, and hack/pair on projects.

So not only does having a regularly-occurring event like OpenHack (or something similar) provide a great way to learn, build things, and network, it can also lead to job creation in the long run simply by connecting people.

Starting your own OpenHack

Perhaps you're reading this, thinking, “wow, I really should start an OpenHack chapter in my area!” Great! I encourage you to do it. You should start by contacting any other local developer meetups to get to know their organizers and see if they would be interested in working with you to make OpenHack a success, and try to find a night that won't conflict with their existing meetups. Also, ask around about things similar to OpenHack that may already exist in your city and see if they'd like to fly under the OpenHack banner, or stay separate, and respect either choice.

Once you have a few local community members organized, I suggest starting with the information on the “Yours?” page of the main OpenHack site. Putting your city into the project is explained there. You can also start a mailing list via Google Groups if you like, and/or possibly a Meetup.com or Facebook group. You may also want to start an official Twitter account as well. Remember that not everyone wants to use Google, Twitter, Facebook, or Meetup, so having a variety of ways to connect with the community is important.

Finally, pick a night and host the meetup. You can structure it however you think will best serve the people attending. There are some suggestions on the OpenHack site to get you started, but you're encouraged to iterate on those and find a mix that works for your group.

In the end, OpenHack is just as much about_the people_writing code as it is about the act of writing code itself. It's about code and community in equal parts, and I encourage everyone to form stronger developer communities in their local areas through initiatives like OpenHack.

About J. Austin Hughey

J. Austin Hughey is a member of our Professional Services team. He focuses on Ruby, Rails and development operations, and organizes OpenHack Austin.