Open Chattanooga is an ever evolving experiment. We’re always trying new things to see what works well. Open Chattanooga recently released CutePetsCHA. CutePetsCHA is a modification of the popular CutePets Twitterbot. It began life as a Code for America project in Denver. CutePets is a simple project. Launching it doesn’t take long, even if one person is doing everything to get it going.

A problem we’ve had with hacknights is that we have many projects in the queue and not any folks leading them. Mostly, it’s been me. On the hacknight where we launched CutePets, I decided to focus on CutePets and nothing else. Eight people showed up to work on it. I compiled the list of tasks required to get CutePets going. Those tasks were:

  • Fork CutePets project to Open Chattanooga’s GitHub account.
  • Create Heroku app for CutePets.
  • Clone the repository and link to Heroku.
  • Create Twitter account and get API key.
  • Get phone number if all your phone numbers are already assigned to a Twitter account.
  • Sign up for petfinder and get API key.
  • Create environment variables in Heroku app for each of the API keys.
  • Design header and profile picture for Twitter account.

Several of these tasks don’t need the person to be a “techie.” I did the first task ahead of time. Almost everybody worked on a task. There were only two people that didn’t get a task. Because I was the only one there that had experience setting up an application with Heroku, I got that. But, the two did get to help with other tasks. That said, I think this was the best hacknight so far. Everybody there, of varying levels of tech skill level, was responsible for the launch of CutePetsCHA.

I think for hacknights to continue to be successful, we should only on one project at a time until we can get more project leaders. Another idea is to ensure that a project has tasks in queue before hand. It is difficult to distribute tasks if you don’t have them. Creating tasks during the hacknight is not a waste of time. But, if the goal is to complete as much as possible, the best bet is to create tasks ahead of time.

Also, I think this illustrates that you don’t need to know how to code to take part. There was a person on the team that had never helped launch a web application before, much less write a line of code. If you have been reluctant to come to a hacknight because you don’t think you’re technical enough, definitely come. There is always something there you can help out on.