05/23/2014 08:28 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

National Day of Civic Hacking: An Interview with Shawn Looker

Never before has technological literacy been so important, especially for those entering the workforce. I'm no sorcerer, but I just don't see that trend abating anytime soon.

I recently sat down to talk about coding with Shawn Looker, one of the two captains for Code for Vegas, the local chapter or brigade of Code for America. Code for Vegas is comprised of civic activists who gather in downtown Las Vegas to find ways to make their city better through technology. Their main goal is to help gather and open city data to the world, a few times a year they organize events where they can share this data with the technology community around them.

PS: What exactly is National Day of Civic Hacking?
SL: Everyone gets together to solve civic problems through technology. This could be anything from tracking flu outbreaks to letting people search all of the municipalities in their city to see if someone they know is in one of the jails.

PS: What kind of people should go?
SL: Anyone who has an interest in their local government should go. This includes people who are interested in civic technology, or use civic services like the bus routes, parks and recreation, or municipal swimming pools. Students are always welcome. We had a group of high school students win our hackathon last year. We also would love to see any developers, designers or civil servants as well.

PS: What kind of problems are you trying to solve?
SL: Really, it depends on the kinds of problems that people have. We have a lot of people who have worked on past civic hackathons to do things like search all the classes in the Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson Parks and Recreation departments, to a team that put together an app that let you see if your lost dog was found by someone and posted to the national database.

PS: What kinds of projects are people working on?
SL: One of my favorite projects was a project called "Flu Buddies." It took you through a list of symptoms and based on your answer it would tell you whether you had the flu or a cold. It would then tell you what to do to take care of your illness. The cool part about the app is that if you had the flu, it would send that information to the National Center for Disease Control, which tracks flu outbreaks. There's also a list of cool challenges at the NDoCH site, and we'll definitely be promoting those challenges throughout the event.

PS: When and where is the event? Does it cost anything to participate?
SL: It's going to be at the InNEVation Center in southwest Las Vegas. We'll start at 10am on Saturday morning, and we'll go until 9pm Saturday night. We'll continue on Sunday at 10 am. We'll demonstrate the apps and finish by 5 pm. The cost is $10 and that covers meals for both Saturday and Sunday. If you're a student though, you can email me at and I'll set you up with a free ticket.