Vermont coding enthusiasts gathered at the Burlington Waterfront on May 31 — without their laptops — to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Code for BTV. This volunteer-run group of programmers and software engineers lends computing expertise to municipalities and nonprofits. The group is the local offshoot, or “brigade,” of San Francisco-based Code for America.
“Did you sing ‘Happy Birthday’ yet?” asked attendee Nick Floersch, one of about 15 revelers who drank sparkling juice and ate lemon bars and popcorn while enjoying the sunset.
The celebration followed the first day of the National Day of Civic Hacking — yes, it was a two-day event. The goal? To advance projects that improve neighborhoods through technology by collaborating with the local government. Burlington was one of 100 communities participating. Code for BTV organized the festivities. Or, rather, its founders, brigade captains Bradley Holt and Jason Pelletier, did. The husband-and-husband team began Code for BTV a year ago.
“It came about through a couple of different angles,” Holt explained. “I had heard of Code for America and thought, well that’s cool, I’d love to do it, but I couldn’t pack up and move. I wanted to benefit my town,” Holt said. “Nonprofits don’t have the budget to build technology. They could do awesome stuff if they had those technological capabilities.”
Pelletier added, “We could do it, but it wasn’t addressing the greater issue.”
Holt continued, “I thought, ‘What if a Code for America brigade was a way to provide these services?'”
So Holt and Pelletier set about establishing a local brigade. Holt said Burlington is the smallest city to have one. It helps that the city has access to Burlington Telecom’s gigabit network. “It’s small enough that you can see a difference, but big enough of a network,” Holt said.
In the past year the group has worked on more than 20 projects and put in more than 2,000 volunteer hours on events such as the Food Systems hackathon and Hack The Stacks at the Fletcher Free Library. Holt and Pelletier are excited to expand in the next year.
“We want to continue to provide hackathons and bring people together on a regular basis. We do have a strategic plan for the year,” Holt said. “The big focus is to deepen collaboration with civic hackers.”
“The idea isn’t to go into a basement and hack. The idea is to work collaboratively and not just hand something over,” he said.
Holt and Pelletier said they were pleased with the turnout at the National Day of Civic Hacking.
“It was good, about 50 people came out. People seemed to quickly find the project they wanted,” Holt said. “There were a lot of new people, the space was great; all in all, it was great,” echoed Pelletier.
Software engineer Ed Sibbald who is working on the Act 148 application, or “mandatory composting app,” said he was glad he attended. He said he enjoyed meeting other people in his field. “This is the first event of theirs that I have come to,” he said. “It is nice to have this community. That people want to help out the civic environment. I could see myself helping by working on a project that’s happening now or another project. I’m a software developer for my job, it’s something I love to do. Helping a nonprofit or governmental agency with budget restrictions is a huge plus.”
Sibbald said he was interested in attending the monthly meet-ups if his schedule allowed.
Code for BTV holds “office hours” at Burlington City Hall every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Visit codeforbtv.org for more information on future meetups.