hackNY summer of good 2019 recap

Christopher Wan
Sep 3 · 4 min read

At hackNY, we’re continuing to broaden our commitment to social good. For the past two summers, we’ve partnered pro bono with dozens of nonprofits and social good companies throughout the world to tackle problems ranging from data journalism in Iran to human trafficking here in the States. Learning from our previous summers, while we continued to partner with organizations on summer-long vertical projects, this year we made a strong effort to provide more horizontal exposure to topics in social good so Fellows can learn about a broad range of issues facing our society. Our goal has been to create a T-shaped strategy to provide the strongest and widest diving board for our 2019 Fellows and the hundreds of hackNY alumni (the alumNY) to get engaged in their communities throughout the summer and beyond.

The primary way we’ve implemented this T-shaped strategy has been through our Speaker Series, a staple of the hackNY Fellows program since 2010. Our Speaker Series serves to expand the Fellows’ horizons as it pertains to a diversity of tech topics. Over the years, hundreds of members of the tech community have spoken to our Fellows — we’ve had Ask Me Anythings with Jonah Peretti of BuzzFeed and talks on the harmful use of algorithms with Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction. This year we sought to infuse our Speaker Series with an element of social good. Of the nearly 20 speakers we had throughout our 2019 Fellowship, we had 5 social good speakers, including tech ethicist David Ryan Polgar and founder of coworker.org Michelle Miller. We’ve had discussions and talks about tech’s impact on free speech and the Constitution from Katy Glenn Bass and about civic engagement from Noel Hidalgo of BetaNYC. These speakers have exposed the Fellows to the various issues that face our society today.

Tech ethicist David Ryan Polgar speaks to the Fellows about the current backlash against technologists

We have also continued our tradition of partnering with organizations to complete projects dedicated to solving social problems in our city and worldwide. These projects give Fellows the opportunity to dive deep into a particular focus area for the summer and teaches them about the rewards (and challenges!) of volunteering. This year, we partnered with a few great organizations to accomplish the following:

  • Cognitive Toybox: Develop a web-based internal dashboard to help its team proactively monitor and improve the customer experience for its product, games that enable teachers to assess language, literacy, math and social-emotional development.
  • Documented: Clean and structure 14 years worth of immigration court data and build a tool that will download the data each month and organize it in the structured format.
  • ProPublica: Develop open-source tools to request government data and make it machine readable.
  • aflow: Develop a messaging application that lets people track bills as they pass through Congress and provide feedback for representatives

In addition to completing technical work related to the projects, the Fellows introduced best technical and engineering practices to the organizations, which sometimes do not have the resources to invest in robust infrastructure. Some of these practices have included project management systems and code versioning. Such practices ensure the long-term sustainability of the organization and provides an easy starting point for future engineers to add to the codebase.

Tammy Kwan of Cognitive Toybox presents her project as Social Good Kick-off Night

This summer, over half of our 2019 Fellows volunteered to work on these projects. When the summer ended, a few of these Fellows presented their progress and accomplishments for social good (and their internships) for the summer. Over the years, much of the work finished by hackNY Fellows has been continued by the organizations, and the work handed off to the organizations this year promises to have lasting impact as well. We are extremely proud of all the work our Fellows have done. Over the coming weeks, a few of our Fellows will be writing blog posts diving a bit deeper into the awesome work they did this summer.

Looking forward, we are hoping to expand our efforts in social good beyond the Summer Fellowship. We continue to believe that cultivating an attitude and appetite for social change is one of the most important things we can do for technologists. We plan to engage our alumNY while also involving members of the tech community via meetups, mentorship and speakers to increase the conversation around how we as technologists can use our skills to further social good. With the support of our new Executive Director Matt Troy, we are very excited to begin searching and partnering with causes and organizations throughout the city and planning events and projects for the community. If your organization is a mission-driven org that could benefit from partnering with talented technologists next summer, or if you know a good cause or organization that might be a great hackNY partner, please let us know at info@hackNY.org!


Blog posts by members of the hackNY community

Christopher Wan

Written by

News Credibility @Facebook | Social Good @HackNY | Computer Science @Yale ‘17



Blog posts by members of the hackNY community

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