Hello everyone! I'm Stephen Finney. I'm a computer science student at Mercer University and I love technology. I'm glad that you're here.

At GDG, it's our hope that the tools and software we showcase every week will positively affect your experience as a developer. There's a lot of cool things going on in the world of technology, and it's our mission to share them with you.

As a developer, I get the most excited when my work is able to impact people in a meaningful way.

It's not just the "cool factor" (although I'll be honest, I want Iron Man's armor more than anything). When I see someone's life become even just a tiny bit better because of the work I've been a part of, I just love it. This is something that didn't really hit me until I got involved in some open-source projects and organizations. When I did, some of those projects made me squeal like a little kid. Many of my sentences were some variation of: "That's AWESOME!"

For me, the happiness that I have in life is greatly augmented by the value that I can bring to others. Software is one meaningful way that I can do that.

Enter community engagement. If you're looking for ways to get involved with your community and to use your hacking skills on some real projects, then stay with me. Here are some places and things you can get going with.

1. Code for America

In my book, these guys are champions of civic hacking. Code for America's mission as stated on their site is to "improve the relationships between citizens and government." In their fellowship program they send teams to cities across the country to solve real civic problems with technology. They were even here in Macon last year! The brigade program is another of CfA's operational branches. There are dozens of "brigades" in cities around the country where hackers come together to work on problems in their city. It's a grassroots, bottom-up approach and it's growing.

How you can get involved

Check out Code for America's list of apps, their open-source code on GitHub or find a brigade in your area. They always welcome contributions to their code on their GitHub page.

2. Hackathons

While there are numerous kinds of "hackathons", all of them with different goals and methodologies, there are some common threads to them all. Generally, they define a group of challenges or problems that need to be solved and ask developers and designers to come tackle them. They usually consist of a long time period anywhere from hours to a full day where the participants "marathon" code their solutions.

Macon had it's own hackathon this summer as a part of the National Day of Civic Hacking. Developers from the central GA area came to Mercer to hack on civic-minded challenges. The teams made their very own apps! 

There are other groups that do and support hackathons also, like Random Hacks of Kindness. These guys do planned hack events and are seriously involved with this stuff. Google also hosts annual hackathon seasons called DevFests.

How you can get involved

Go check out the links above and find an event in your area, or stay tuned to this blog for upcoming events! Alternatively, why not start your own?

3. Local Community Groups

Of course, one of the best ways to get involved with hacking your community is to find others who are already active within it. Even if these groups don't have a pure focus on hacking or technology, they probably have a good idea of where your skills could be useful. My advice for the one who likes going the extra mile is to seek out some local non-profits and active community groups and find some hacking challenges to solve. I assure you, they're out there.

If you're looking for something truly different, check out the Air Force's new Collaboratory movement. They're encouraging software and hardware professionals, as well as creative thinkers of all vocations, to solve problems with search and rescue initiatives, quadrotor development, and more.

How you can get involved

Go find some local community groups and seek out some problems to be solved by like-minded hackers like you. Then, you can bring them to the attention of the hackathon coordinators above or other local groups like our GDG! In Macon, the College Hill Alliance is always getting involved with the city's growth and revitalization. There are also plenty of opportunities to get involved with Mercer's service-oriented events and groups. Let me know if you're interested, and I'll help you get started.

4. DIY Hacking

So there's not much going on right now in your area? Don't give up. While I always encourage coding in groups, you can still find ways to get involved and make a difference.

Code for America's apps are almost all open-source and available on GitHub. If you're not familiar with GitHub, go check it out. You can find all kinds of websites and apps that welcome contributions to their code. CfA always enjoys active community members who submit pull requests.

You can always find some cool challenges to work on, like our list of challenges from Macon's summer hackathon. Each of them have a link to a Hackpad with information about who are working on them now. This is a great way to find some other communities to get involved with.

Finally, if you see an app that another community uses and you think it would be helpful for your city also, re-use it! Open-source apps like Boston's Adopt-a-hydrant have been reused multiple times. Get plugged-in with the appropriate audience for the app. Go and talk to your community's representatives about making the app available for your area.

What are some other ideas for engaging a community? Tell us in the comments!

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Images courtesy of Code for America, API Evangelist, & GitHub.

Community image designed by Bruno Castro from The Noun Project.

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