Houston Hackathon v5

Another year and another incredibly successful Houston Hackathon in the books! The City held its 5th Annual Houston Hackathon on May 20-21 at the Houston Technology Center in partnership with Sketch City, a nonprofit community that advocates for civic technology and open data. More than 300 software developers, designers, and data analysts attended the event pitching ideas, forming teams, and developing innovative new websites, mobile apps, and insightful data visualizations to address community and City problems.

The Mayor’s Office of Innovation & Performance helps host the Hackathon every year, serving as the City subject-matter experts, data stewards and general brainstormers. One of our own, Steven David, led a project team that developed a smoke detector risk model that will inform which neighborhoods and block groups our Fire Department will target with fire alarm installations. Saving lives through data!

The Hackathon is over, but the Innovation Team’s work has just begun. Over the coming months, we’ll be working with teams from the Hackathon to carry their projects across the finish line – whether it is adopting and incorporating solutions into existing City programs or promoting and facilitating projects that go beyond the walls of City Hall.

To view all submissions visit:

2017 Hackathon Winners:
Houston Adopt-a-Drain - which allows citizens to adopt storm drains and notifies adopters when a major storm event is coming so they can clear their adopted drain inlets.

NeedHOU - created a comprehensive database for community service providers to more appropriately and easily refer clients to resources in the community.

Houston Book Link - allows users to search the resources of both Houston Public Library and Harris County Public Library Systems' in a single site.

PAIR (Polluted Air) - Sends users a notification when nearby air quality sensors detect a moderate or dangerous level of pollutants and allows users to easily report air quality violations to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

For further details about the City of Houston's Hackathon please visit:

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4th largest U.S. city seeking Enterprise Data Officer

Are you interested in cities and the power of data to deliver insights, and a more effective and sustainable government?

The City of Houston is building its Enterprise Data Analytics program and is looking for a few good data wranglers who want to transform the way government does business. More than that, we need a leader.

Our team of developers, DBA’s and data nerds help staff unlock the value in the city’s vast network of databases. The information we provide leads to better decisions, and drives significant operational and financial improvements. In one project, we used data from a handful of operations to create a positive revenue impact of $20 million and counting.

Our mission: Lead a citywide data analytics program that is agile, documented, scalable and secure using the most modern technologies available. We work in partnership with our business - closely with the Houston Performance Improvement team - and our ultimate goal is delivering data and analyses that people actually use.

When not teaming up with our civil service colleagues, we’re the tech brains charged with rebooting the Houston open data initiative in partnership with Open Houston and our fellow Houstonians. Simply put, we aspire to be at the forefront of civic technology and data analytics innovation with other leading cities.

We do this work for the place we call home: Houston, Texas. Houston, the world’s energy capital, is internationally known for its economy, jobs, and low cost of living. But that’s not all. We are a top destination for engineers, technologists, and college grads. Our theatre, arts and restaurant scene are second only to NYC. Other recent recognitions include “Most diverse city in America” and America’s “Coolest city.”

The Job - Enterprise Data Officer

As Enterprise Data Officer (EDO), you will design and execute Houston’s data and analytics strategy, driving rapid growth of our data environment. You will manage multiple teams over data warehousing and analytics, open data, and location based data and services (GIS). As the lead on enterprise data, your role is to guide the teams that build and enrich online information for our users, converting messy and fragmented data into knowledge. This involves data acquisition, processing, management, and auditing, as well as maintaining sound architecture and systems integration techniques.

More than just the technical aspects of enterprise data, you will serve as the champion for data and analytics to both internal operating departments, as well as with the community. This role needs someone who has a vision, understands the value and opportunities with enterprise city data, and who can engage the city’s users as its Chief Data Evangelist.

Skills, Experience, Expertise

We’re very interested in hearing your story and how you can help us build a better city. We’re generally flexible, but the below may help as a starting point:

  • BS in Computer Science or related systems training, MS preferred.
  • 5+ years of software engineering with focus on data analytics, data management, GIS.
  • Demonstrated experience with complex relational, spatial, and/or NoSQL databases.
  • Experience working with APIs, web services, custom systems interfaces (JSON, XML), github, open source.
  • Passion and Excitement for the public sector and mission driven work that makes an impact on the community.

Why Us?

Broadly, you’re interested in:

  • Immersion in civic urban innovation.
  • Exciting, start-up work environment inside government (new and innovative programs don’t come every day).
  • Exposure to and immersion in Houston open data innovation and start up network and events.
  • Build knowledge of public sector challenges facing our country, and develop solutions.

Get in Touch

Send a short cover note, CV/resume, LinkedIn, and any online portfolio/GitHub link to

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How Will Open Data Affect Houston?

The City of Houston has an Open Data Administrative Procedure (policy) and we’ve started cataloging and identifying data sets that will be available on the Open Data Portal but what does the Open Data policy mean for employees, residents, and entrepreneurs? This blog post will look at just that, however, let’s define some terms to level-set.

What is data?

It is information that has been gathered by the City during its normal course of business.

What kind of data does the open data policy address?

It can include budget data, 311 requests, accident reports and much more; any machine-readable data the City produces that is not confidential or otherwise protected.

Now, what does the policy mean?

If you are a City of Houston employee:

The open data policy DOES NOT change your day-to-day activities. If you generate or manipulate data it will be cataloged. If the Open Data Advisory Board believes the data should be published then you will be given a template to ensure compliance with data standards and machine readability.

If you are a resident:

This is great news for residents as it means more data will be made public without submitting open records requests. If you don’t see a dataset you’re interested in, simply use the ‘Ideas & Feedback’ button to request the dataset. The appropriate research will be done and if possible the dataset will be made available. Please remember, all datasets are still subject to privacy laws.

If you are an entrepreneur:

Open Data can enhance existing businesses and create new opportunities as seen in other cities that have implemented Open Data policies. In fact, you can find an entire list of companies that use open data here.

Keep an eye out for the next post which will be a Wiki for the interim Open Data Portal.

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Mayor Annise Parker Announces the 2nd Annual City of Houston Open Innovation Hackathon

Mayor Annise Parker Announces the 2nd Annual City of Houston Open Innovation Hackathon

Houston Technology Experts and Recreational Techies Invited to Help Solve City-Resident Issues

May 20, 2014 -- Houston Mayor Annise Parker today announced the City of Houston will host its second annual “Open Innovation Hackathon” on May 31-June 1 at the Houston Technology Center. This year’s Hackathon is also part of the National Civic Day of Hacking series of civic innovation events being hosted across the globe during the weekend. A hackathon is an event in which software developers, designers, and data analysts collaborate intensively on data and software projects. Over the course of the weekend, Houston’s "civic hackers" will pitch ideas, form teams and develop innovative new websites, mobile apps, and insightful data visualizations to address community and city problems.

"Last year's inaugural Hackathon attracted over 200 attendees, reinforcing why Houston leads the nation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) job growth," Mayor Parker said. "The City is not only interested in sharing our data to help entrepreneurs and the community, but we also look forward to seeing high-impact projects that we can implement within city government to solve our problems and better serve the citizens."

The City has identified nearly 20 "weekend projects" that a team of software developers, designers, analysts and others could reasonably complete, ranging from an Adopt-a-Hydrant app that allows citizens to adopt city infrastructure to a project to better share restaurant inspection information with the public. To help participants prepare for these projects, datasets have been made available on an interim open data portal. Participants can also work on their own project ideas at this free Hackathon event and submit their work for review by judges on Sunday.

"Last year’s Hackathon demonstrated how creating a dialogue between City officials and the region’s technology and start-up communities can create success both inside and outside City government,” said City Council Member and Hackathon Co-Chair Ed Gonzalez. "That success has been really important to how we're thinking about technology inside the City of Houston and in the community."

The City has implemented two projects through its civic innovation efforts – Budget Bootcamp and the 311 Performance Dashboards – and its IT staff has also benefited from the exposure to new technologies and different development techniques. Last year’s Open Innovation Hackathon featured over 200 attendees and over 20 team project submissions. Citizens interested in learning more about the event are encourage to view last year’s recap video.

Further information about the City of Houston Open Innovation Hackathon, as well as registration information, is available at:

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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Adventures in Geospatial Data: X and Y Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Hello all and welcome to my very first blog post on the Performance Improvement Division’s website! With the Houston Hackathon coming up on May 31st and June 1st, I thought it would be great to revisit an interesting geocoding situation citizens have voiced since our first Hackathon. What could possibly be interesting about geocoding, you ask? Well, it’s the age old question of what the heck does X and Y mean.

Many of the datasets on the City’s test open data portal happen to be geospatial data. The City has a robust GIS program using the ESRI suite of products. This allows us to make loads of wonderful data that is public already also available in our test open data portal. Yet, for data to be geospatial it needs to be associated with points on Earth. To do this, one needs to assign a coordinate to a point and the most common electronic coordinate system is decimal degrees latitude and longitude where the equator is 0 degrees latitude and the prime meridian is 0 degrees longitude.

But, here’s where things get complicated: because the globe is spherical and also has different altitudes, it’s rather difficult to have a coordinate system that’s exact in every area of the globe when the 3D globe is transformed into a 2D map. For local and regional actors, exactness of geocoded points is important and can be the difference between sending a fire truck to your house versus the house that is two blocks behind you. To solve this issue, many governments use the State Plane Coordinate System - Houson is no exception.

For the City, most of our data is geocoded using a coordinate system based on a 1983 survey of the United States: NAD 1983, Texas South Central FIPS 4204. This particular coordinate system is covers latitudes 27.82 degrees to 30.66 degrees and longitudes -105 to -93.83 (see a map here: What this means for us is the x and y isn't representative of latitude and longitude, but rather x and y for a coordinate system that isn't centered on the intersection of the prime meridian and the equator. To get around this fact, one would have to convert these x and y coordinates to another mapping coordinate system: WGS 1984.

As we continue to share City data and identify high value datasets, we want to hear from you: do you want the City to provide latitude and longitude by default in our datasets? We've started the ball rolling by providing both X and Y along with latitude and longitude on this front on our daily 311 data files. Let us know your thoughts.

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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