In Portland, Too Many Hackers and Not Enough Space

A spotlight on the 2018 Global Sprint site in Portland, OR

Here’s a quandary: What to do when an open-source hackathon has room for 50, but 100 people show up?

That’s the cheerful dilemma facing Mozilla’s office space in Portland during this year’s Global Sprint (May 10–11). The Global Sprint is an annual, distributed event for the open-source community. Hundreds of participants gather online and in physical locations around the world to build and collaborate.

Scenes from 2017’s Global Sprint

Mozilla’s Craig Wiroll is helping organize the Portland location. Craig runs Mozilla’s gigabit work in Eugene, OR. (Learn more about the Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund.)

“I live about two hours from Portland down in Eugene,” Craig explains. “If I were relying on my local networks alone, I could perhaps get about five to 10 people to carpool up to the sprint to join me.”

But Craig quickly encountered a galaxy of other networks eager to attend. Lately he’s been in touch with neuroscience students from Oregon Health & Science University. He’s enlisted the Technology Association of Oregon, a statewide nonprofit. He’s invited HackOregon, a civic hacking group currently examining disaster resilience and neighborhood development. And of course there’s his local network EugeneTech — a cooperative of technologists and educators.

“It helps to have some brilliant co-collaborators,” Craig says. “We now have close to 100 enlistees for the Mozilla Global Sprint — and the newly-expanded Portland Mozilla office holds about 50. A wonderful problem to have. We will make it work, and ensure everyone has a seat at the table.”

What will the participants be working on? One Portland-based Global Sprint project is Reading for Gender Bias, a web-based text-mining tool that scans for and then reveals gender-biased language in professional evaluations and letters of recommendation.

“Even if someone wants to write a really strong letter for a woman, they will probably include language that reflects implicit bias, which weakens the letter,” explains founder Mollie Marr.

Another Portland project: Web + Messaging, an exploration of how the web and messaging apps can play together. From the project’s GitHub repo: “Browsers are how we access the web, and contain a lot of useful information about us — what we read, our schedule, our interests, where we shop, bank and more. Messaging apps are how we connect to our friends, families, and increasingly how we talk to bots, services, devices and take care of business. How can we bridge these worlds? How can we make them complementary?”

And of course, Portland-based sprinters can also contribute to projects oceans away — like Parliamentary Debates Open, an open-source project that’s empowering public-interest journalists in Hungary.

Until then, Craig and the Portland crew will be looking for a little extra space.

Learn more about the Global Sprint.