Reflecting on 5 Years of Chi Hack Night

Published on Apr 18, 2017 by Derek Eder

5 Years of Chi Hack Night
5 Years of Chi Hack Night

Today marks Chi Hack Night’s 250th event and five-year anniversary! Yes, we’ve been doing this for five years, and what a ride it’s been!

For the occasion, we invited our members, alumni and past presenters to share how Chi Hack Night and its community has affected or benefited them.

We were floored by your responses. It turns out you like us — you really like us! Here they all are, in alphabetical order:


Rose Afriyie

Rose Afriyie
Co-founder of mRelief

Chi Hack Night was where mRelief was incubated and founded. The community we had and continue to have then has made it possible for us to transform an idea into an organization. The technical mentorship and community support is unparalleled. To 50 more!!


Daniel F. Bassill

Daniel F. Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC

For 40 years I’ve learned from the ideas and work being done by others, and I’ve applied this learning to my own efforts. I’m really happy to have Chi Hack Night as part of my network and appreciate the dedication and commitment of the organizers who have made these weekly meetings happen for the past five years. Let’s go for 10!


Olga Bautista

Olga Bautista
Co-founder of the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke

Being from an industrial community, I became accustomed to smoke stacks, delays due to railroad and bridge crossings, and bad odors from nearby companies. But, it wasn’t until a few local environmental activists started to notice fugitive dust coming from the Petcoke piling up on the banks of the Calumet River that the residents started to question how safe it was and ultimately decided to demand a ban on Petcoke. They wanted a cleaner and greener community.

One way that helped raise awareness and helped residents make a decision about venturing outside when Petcoke might be present in the air was the creation of Petcokealerts.org. When the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke (SSCBP) was invited to present to Chi Hack Night, we never expected to have a prototype of this thing only two days later. We are so grateful to Ben Wilhelm and all the volunteers that worked so hard on Petcokealerts.org. All the piles of Petcoke are now gone and Petcokealerts.org helped get the word out about the problem to the community when the city and the state fell short.


Cathy Deng

Cathy Deng
BuzzFeed Open Lab Fellow

Most tech meetups are organized around a specific technology, whether it’s Python or AWS or some shiny Javascript framework. I appreciate that Chi Hack Night is more focused on the goal or impact of a tech project, rather than the technologies themselves. As a result, the attendees and projects are naturally more diverse and more interesting.

Also! I got a rewarding job working with brilliant people directly because of Chi Hack Night, so I’m especially grateful for this wonderful weekly gathering. Happy 5 years!!


David Eads

David Eads
NPR Visuals Team

Chi Hack Night is a wonderful institution. Several projects that would prove to be transformative for me and others were born in conversations there. Miss y’all! Sending good vibes from DC.


Karl Fogel

Karl Fogel
Partner at Open Tech Strategies

Lots of cities have civic technology meetups these days, but what makes Chi Hack Night special — and why it’s still growing after 5 years — is its culture of radical inclusiveness, generosity, and open-mindedness.

I mean “radical” literally: these qualities started with Chi Hack Night’s roots, a small group of civic tech practitioners who were habitually open to new ideas and new people. Chi Hack Night’s philosophy seems to be that deploying technology into the real world will always make it clear what works and what doesn’t anyway, so why have negative energy coming from people? Just be encouraging, introduce people to each other, arrange stimulating presentations, and see what happens.

For me personally and for my company, Chi Hack Night has led to both successful projects and successful partnerships. It turns out the kind of people who flourish at Chi Hack Night are the kind of people we want to work with, and that’s only getting more true every year.


Eureka Foong

Eureka Foong
PhD Student at Northwestern University

It has truly been a great experience being at hack nights last year and learning from all of you. I love being a part of hackathons because you feel like you’re going to make a great impact at the beginning … but the enthusiasm wanes at the end. Chi Hack Night gives people the space and talent to take ideas beyond the 48-hour sprint. I’m grateful for being a part of your community and learning about the joys and pains of solving tough civic and computing problems. I think everyone who comes to Hack Night gets something out of it; for me, it helped me develop my research interests in problem solving and supporting design teams. Wishing you all a very happy 5-year anniversary and many more to come.


Joe Germuska

Joe Germuska
Executive Director at Northwestern Knight Lab
Co-founder of Open Gov Chicago(-land)

It’s hard to believe that Chi Hack Night is five years old, except that the organizers have been demonstrating their commitment to community and helping people learn for even longer. Still, I know just how hard it is to get people together and keep them together on an ongoing basis. It’s an amazing achievement, and it makes me so happy to know that Chicago has this kind of energy, not just in the organizers but in the people who come to the event, regulars and newcomers alike. Cheers to the whole crew!


Adam Hecktman

Adam Hecktman
Director of Technology & Civic Innovation Chicago at Microsoft

Chi Hack Night is consistently the highlight of my week. To say that it has opened my eyes in many ways is a dramatic understatement of the impact that Chi Hack Night has had on my world view, my professional life, and my personal life. I have made numerous friendships, have learned new skills, have developed empathy and understanding on many issues, and deepened my love for the positive impact that technology can have on my city and the world. Thank you to the Chi Hack Night community for all that we do for each other and for Chicago. Mazel Tov Chi Hack Night on 5 wonderful, inspiring years.


Mary Kuhn

Mary Kuhn
The Resurrection Project

Hack Night helped me when I returned to Chicago after 6 years away. I joined an interesting project right away and formed a network of smart and compassionate people. Thank you, Hack Night, for making our city a better place.


Gene Leynes

Gene Leynes
Data Scientist at the City of Chicago

Chi Hack Night (formerly Open Gov Hack Night) has been absolutely instrumental for bringing together a lot of great people in Chicago. It’s mostly centered around technology and civic activity, but the thing that’s special about hack night is that you are the person you want to be. If you want to become a full time urban planner / html developer / machine learner, you can start by playing that role at hack night. This is where a lot of people find out who they are and who they want to become.


Jeff Meisel

Jeff Meisel
Chief Marketing Officer at the US Census Bureau

When people ask me “Why Public Service?”, I’m reminded of when I presented to Chi Hack Night back in May 2015…

It was the lead up to the National Day of Civic Hacking and the Census Bureau was about to launch our new CitySDK product, intended to make our data more accessible. I was still pretty new to government and the meeting was held in one of the startup spaces in the Merchandise Mart. The room was full of about 120 civic techies, engineers, data scientists, journalists, and community members.

I thought my session had gone reasonable well, but I wasn’t 100% certain. Then, an audience member raised his hand to announce to the whole room, that he had just submitted an issue on Github, and an employee from Census (after government work hours) had instantaneously responded to answer the question.

The room broke into a round of applause and it was one of the most memorable moments I’ve ever had as a presenter, and as a public servant as whole. It really hit home to me how citizens have a thirst for a responsive government, and how each small step forward matters. And it’s a great memory I’ll always have of Chi Hack Night.


David Melton

David Melton
Board Member at Illinois Campaign for Political Reform

Chi Hack has been an invaluable resource in working on policy issues and a source of fascinating information, experience and acquaintances.


Claire Micklin

Claire Micklin
Creator of My Building Doesn’t Recycle

The Chi Hack Night community provided me with the support and resources to turn an idea into an app that ended up changing policy in Chicago. I’m very thankful to have crossed paths with Chi Hack Night and to have had such a rich first-hand experience with creating civic tech.


Hunter Owens

Hunter Owens
Data Science Project Manager at the City of Los Angeles

I literally can say that my life would not be the same without Chi Hack Night. Chi Hack Night provides the community of civic engaged nerds who are committed to making Chicago a better place, and I was glad to play my part during from the first, 10-person Hack Nights to today’s 120-person plus affairs.

Without the knowledge gained from countless presentations, conversations with peers, learning breakout groups, and the occasional late night beer at Monk’s, I would not be able to do my job at the City of LA. Congrats on the 5 year anniversary and cheers to another half decade.


Jerry Paffendorf

Jerry Paffendorf
CEO at Loveland Technologies

Chi Hack Night has been an inspiration for us in Detroit. We pay attention to what you’re up to, and look up to the community you’ve built. Thank you, midwestern neighbors, for keeping the band together over these years. What you do has value beyond the borders of Chicago and Illinois.


Jen Pahlka

Jen Pahlka
Executive Director at Code for America

Congratulations to Chi Hack Night on 5 wonderful years! I’ve only been once but it was clearly one of the most amazing group of good-hearted, public-minded, smart, and insightful people working together ever to come together. And to keep coming together to make great things happen, and to inspire other Hack Nights all around the country and the world!


Rachael Perrotta

Rachael Perrotta
Activist and PR Strategist

The Chi Hack Night community is one of the most vibrant and innovative in Chicago. I can’t overstate the value their work adds to data journalism and social justice advocacy in the city. Chi Hack Night attendees were one of the best audience I’ve ever had during a talk. I hope their projects continues expand in the future. Chicago needs them!!


Andy Rasmussen

Andy Rasmussen
Computer Science for All at Chicago Public Schools

I came to Chi Hack Night to see if I could help figure out a way to optimize the city’s transit routes, and got a whole lot more than I bargained for. I didn’t end up working on that project, but instead joined a group that focuses on supporting my own work on the CS4All initiative at Chicago Public Schools. It hasn’t just been about civic tech—as an outsider (from Michigan), I don’t know of a better place where I could have built for, learned about, and contributed to this city that is now my home.


Robin Robinson

Robin Robinson
Special Adviser of Community Affairs at the Chicago Police Department

Maybe it’s the word “hack” that scares non-techy folks like me! What a pleasant surprise to find such a welcoming atmosphere at Chi Hack Night — I can’t wait to go back. Not a hatchet in sight.


Bo Rodda

Bo Rodda
Executive Director at ImagineDev

Over the past several years, I (we) have seen a revolution in the way we think about our neighborhoods, our cities, our world. Data of course is what is driving this change.

Chi Hack Night began with small group of geeks trying to make sense of what a quantified world means, and more importantly, how might we leverage it to shape our future. Derek and the Chi Hack Night community have, in a very real sense, placed Chicago as a leader in the smart government/ city movement — not just the in the US, but for the world. Thank you for all of your hard work and keep it, we need now you more than ever, stay strong and God bless!


Greg Sanders

Greg Sanders
Chapin Hall

15 years ago open government data, and transparency in general, were just good ideas. They failed to gain traction for a very long time. We know that innovation requires first a good idea, and then it requires leadership. But perhaps most important, the good idea requires a social milieu in which to ferment. (Don’t take that term too literally. Alcohol is not necessary for Innovation, strictly speaking.)

The social milieu in which public data, civic data and the thirst for transparency took root was anchored above all by the Hack nights and also the OpenGov Meetup led by Dan O’Neil and Joe Germuska. Without these laboratories where people were free to think big, start small, mess around and learn from one another, the good idea of civic technology would have failed to convert into good outcomes.

Those who made the hack nights both possible and impressively successful should be proud of all the ripples that have flowed outwards from what you started. This movement was not inevitable in Chicago or anywhere else … it happened because some people made it happen. We’re all glad that you did.


Gabe Sawhney

Gabe Sawhney
Co-founder, Civic Tech Toronto
Executive Director, Code for Canada

Chi Hack Night — and the amazing civic tech community that’s developed around it — are what inspired a few of us to start Civic Tech Toronto (civictech.ca). We followed your model to make welcoming and inclusive events, and now have 60-80 participants every Tuesday. We’ll be celebrating our 100th hack night and second anniversary this July. It wouldn’t have happened without Chi Hack Night!


Ari Scharg

Ari Scharg
Digital Privacy Alliance

I had the honor of presenting at Chi Hack Night a few months ago about emerging internet privacy issues. The experience was transformational, and opened my eyes to Chicago’s incredibly robust and vibrant community of civic hackers, organizers, and activists. Derek is a sneaky good and inspiring leader, and makes newcomers feel right at home. The group is supportive, inclusive, open-minded, and profoundly motivated. They don’t just talk about changing the world; they actually show up every week and do it.

That mentality is contagious and inspired me to take my presentation on internet privacy to the next level. A few weeks later — with the help and support of many, many Chi Hack Nighters — I formed a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for state-level internet privacy reforms. We’re already making a meaningful impact in a number of states across the country. I’m grateful to Derek and the rest of the Chi Hack Night crew for their hard work, selflessness, and moral fortitude. Congratulations on an amazing 5 years. Here’s to 100 more.


Eric Sherman

Eric Sherman
GIS Consultant and Web Developer

For me, Chi Hack Night was first a place I could meet like-minded folks and see projects at the intersection of local politics and technology. I saw technology being used in creative ways to explore issues I cared about. I was welcomed into projects and conversations, despite not working in tech or knowing how to code.

I essentially learned how to program by attending weekly for three years, and now I do it for a living! I’ve also learned how to network and how important that is, and how many different ways there are to effectively organize groups and communities.


Nate Steinfeld

Nate Steinfeld
Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council

I wish I had some more amazing story to tell, but really, it has just been great being able to attend (and present once!). Thank you so much for coordinating and supporting such a great community.


Steven Vance

Steven Vance
Streetsblog Chicago and Chicago Cityscape

Hack night was originally a place for strangers to start using open data and share ways to manipulate or visualize it, before anyone knew what could be done with it. It has become an institution where strangers become friends and colleagues, and build even greater apps, reports, projects, and make a bigger impact than we did when it started at a small firm’s office five years ago.


Thank you everyone! See you next Tuesday!


About the author


Derek is an entrepreneur, developer and one of the leaders of the civic technology community in Chicago. He is a co-founder and partner at DataMade — a company that tells stories and builds tools with data — and is the lead organizer for Chi Hack Night.