I participated in a Make-a-Diff hackathon in 2016 at Thoughtworks, to help create a site that aggregates open-source Civic Tech Projects already started by many civic activists and organizers using Github. It was quite an exhilarating journey to be in a startup space with a bunch of stranger techies coding together for a good cause. I have observed first hand the workflows needed in building a site (What is Gulp?), met the founder of Dev.to and participated happily with the minimum coding and UX design skills I was equipped with. Since this was a one-day hackathon, I have also learned how it could be difficult to work together if a group is lacking in skills-diversity (we had more developers than designers); and to have a strict project management plan.
Open Source is a great way to help organize grassroots ideas using tools like Github to help facilitate project planning, to support and improve a platform. In What Does “Open Source” Even Mean? by Jen Kagan, Vesha Parker who is one of the organizers of Progressive Hacknight, differentiates the motivation between contributing to open source in your free time versus working on a closed source project for work:
The motivation of all the stakeholders, at least within the tech activism scene, is to fix things. It’s not to make money. It’s not to satisfy some investors. So you have more freedom. But you also have to figure out how to motivate people to work on these things for free that won’t make them money — and to be passionate about it.
It is human nature to want to contribute for a good cause, and that’s the invisible thread that pools together willing volunteers – techies and non- techies alike – to drive OS projects forward. Everything about the hackathon experience was a human version of how Github works – one contributes, one pulls the request and approves the request and most times we had to merge conflicts! The last part was the most eventful – I wish we had established a code of conduct or at least used Gitmoji as a good icebreaker 🙈 .