Posted on Aug 5, 2013 in Weblog | 0 comments

Hack-a-thon events bring software developers, business developers, designers, and dreamers together to think up, build, and create projects. Within the past few years, hack-a-thons — also known by other names like code-a-thons or appjams — have encouraged quick turnaround times for projects. These are extraordinarily popular in the San Francisco / Silicon Valley Bay Area, the New York City area, and Boston, all hubs for software technology.

So how can this energy be brought to Sacramento — the state capital of California?

On the surface, Sacramento features a lackluster downtown that looks emptier than San Francisco’s financial district during the weekends. Light rail trains creep along every half hour — three times less often than Los Angeles’s subway system. Even the local newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, thinks Sacramento’s high-tech community struggles for recognition:

[The Sacramento region has a] difficult climate for entrepreneurs. Although Sacramento has had some success lately in breeding clean-tech companies, the area suffers from a scarcity of investment dollars and other key attributes for startups. Promising young companies often get lured to the more established and richer tech climate of the Bay Area. … Andrew Hargadon, an expert on entrepreneurship at UC Davis, said many Central Valley companies tend to focus on slower-growth businesses, like agricultural technology, which can be less attractive to investors.

But beneath the surface, there is a burgeoning tech community here. Hacker Lab, a non-profit that launched about a year ago, has been home to numerous tech events.

Their most recent event, Cereal Hack, is a hack-a-thon event that’s now in its third incarnation. Cereal Hack brought together approximately 60+ software developers, 12 entrepreneur business developers, and 5 UX designers to chow down on Chipotle-provided burritos and free WiFi.

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A very diverse, casual crowd of thinkers and developers gathered in a geek’s paradise filled with 3D printers, heavy equipment, Yoda posters, and office furniture:

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Even undergraduate students came all the way from UC Davis — about a 1-hour transit trip or 20-minute drive — to participate. Their team created a very polished-looking application called Bookbucket which brings social features to the joy of reading.

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One project even featured a lower-cost alternative to motion capture devices featuring Arduino-powered components. Here’s the Arduino sensors embedded on one of the team’s arms; on the screen, a 3D representation of their arm is shown:

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Participants were very energetic at the Cereal Hack event — especially with the extremely generous cash and sponsored gift prizes. The growth of Sacramento’s tech scene — despite being overshadowed by nearby SF Bay Area — has been well-documented in numerous articles:

I’m looking forward to participating in one myself in the future! Perhaps we can bring something cool and useful to psychiatric practice and the rest of the medical field.

Thanks to Gina Lujan, co-founder of Hacker Lab, for inviting me to the event.