Codemaker demystifies the world of code

Text: Clara Guibourg

A desire to learn more about how programming works united the 12 participants who gathered for MiniBarLab’s CodeMaker course, hosted by Publicis Drugstore on Thursday.

“I’m a complete novice,” said participant Diane Gracie, 30. In her work as senior accounts director at Publicis, she often comes in contact with developers.

Diane Gracie
Diane Gracie

“This is quite helpful for understanding what my clients are talking about a little better. And it’s really interesting how it all fits together,” she said.

So what’s the course about?

“Computers are like great complex abacuses,” instructor Peter Brownell, from Code Positive, tells his attentive students.

In other words, CodeMaker takes care to really start at the beginning, before moving swiftly through the next 4,000 years or so of tech history. From a hands-on crash course in HTML and CSS to how exactly programs talk to each other through APIs, CodeMaker covers a lot of ground in just a few hours.

“The point is not to turn people into programmers, but to understand the principles behind it,” said Christian Ahlert from MiniBarLabs.

“One thing people don’t have a lot of is time, and in daily life we often have very little time to reflect over how even your own website works,” he explained.

With Codemaker, MiniBarLabs hope to get people to see technology as an investment,rather than a cost, and the course has been held several times a month for over two years now.

It may sound like a lot to get through in an afternoon, but the audience at Publicis Drugstore seems rapt.

Peter Brownell from Code Positive demystifying code for his students.
Peter Brownell from Code Positive demystifying code for his students

“We do tend to have a lot of exhausted people in the room at the end of the day,” admits instructor Peter Brownell.

“It’s fun to see the shift. Participants usually go through a phase of confusion in the morning. It’s great to see the transition sometime half-way through, with everyone suddenly cheering up as they start to understand HTML.”

One thing CodeMaker focuses on is Open Source software and the merits of a ‘hacker culture’.

“This hacker isn’t someone who’s going to steal your credit card details, though,” Peter Brownell clarified.

Instead, it’s about a community sharing, modifying and improving code together – a network model that’s become the dominant form for software development, explained Brownell, hoping to get his participants to choose a “bazaar model” over a “cathedral”.

As the course concludes, Peter Brownell summarises what he hopes his students have learnt about code:

“It’s not that obscure, and it is something you can understand.”

Making Toast with CodeMaker @Publicis Drugstore with Nestle, Renault, Loreal and AAR

As part of the brand new Publicis Drugstore initiative we are doing today one of our fabulous CodeMaker courses. We have just kicked off and our participants are describing ‘how to make toast’ to learn the basics of programming. Its a great exercise to illustrate the skills a software developer needs to have – in this case analyse a problem, which is to understand how to make toast. So here you learn about what are instructions, what is an input, output, conditions, data and so forth. So in short what assumptions do we make: do we have power, sliced bread, or indeed a toaster. In essence we get participants to write a little program that would make you toast just without the actual coding.

Hack-ney-thon Hacks


Hack-ney-thon 2014

More than the sum of our parts


FIRST PRIZE Fix Hackney Moreno Bonaventura, Shavin Fonseka, Jacopo Hirschstein and Viktor Zyakhor

SECOND PRIZE Planning PermiSMSion Phil Nash (Twilio)

THIRD PRIZE The Italian Job Alessio Gottardo and Vittorio Delsignore

Special Mention also goes to Dalton Scott and his mum Roslyn for their hack Hack Prop

To set the scene a little, it could be said that a hack is somewhat determined (however loosely) by its elements – much like the ingredients of your favourite recipe. Last weekend in a large room overlooking a busy Old Street we gathered together a myriad of ‘things’; planning data, food, a remote survey group, wiki enthusiasts, front end developers, business consultants, staff with an extra special interest in mapping visualisation tools etc. Over two days these bits and bobs were worked together and out of this came 8 great hacks and hopefully a few laughs.

Below is a breakdown of each team and their hack in no particular order..


Hackney Properties

Team: Jamie Copeland, Raim Koo, Mazin Power and Alberto Rizzoli

The hack enabled a space in which council staff could work with teams and really scrutinise the processes behind particular council services. Discussions early in the weekend brought user experience to the fore and through hacks participants sought to find new ways for local residents to engage with the council online.

In our first hack the team focused on the task of how local residents can search for council commercial lets. Using OnePulse services the team discovered that ⅔ of those surveyed didn’t know that they could enquire direct to the council for lets in their area and the majority were keen to access this information online rather than via telephone. With this knowledge the team built a clean and intuitive graphic user interface that allowed a snapshot overview of available properties. Users could then drill down and filter results or find detailed info on each property. Then if no matches were found users could also sign up to be notified via push notifications in facebook, email or text using Twilio. Special mention goes to Jamie for learning MongoDB from scratch and working through the night, presenting to our panel of judges with only 1 hour of sleep!

Hackney Properties screenshot
Hackney Properties screenshot


The Italian Job **3rd PRIZE**

Team: Alessio Gottardo and Vittorio Delsignore

This was a hack to simplify the process when booking an appointment at the local office to register a new birth. The current process can be found here: With council staff the team (both software developers) assessed the flow of questioning/information gathering in the form and restructured it along with a plugin of both BookingBug and Twilio. Users can go through, book a time slot and once actioned will get a confirmation via text of their appointment.


Planning PermiSMSion **2nd PRIZE**

Team: Phil Nash (Twilio)

Prompted by Christian Ahlert (MiniBarLabs CEO and local homeowner) Phil developed a hack to notify interested parties of new planning applications (and potentially licensing). Currently communications to individuals around planning are conducted via the post. Letters are necessary because they satisfy the majority of residents (particularly those without online access) however Phil wanted to see if there was an elegant, contemporary way of communicating alongside this. Therefore he built an interface that allows users to sign up and choose to receive updates on planning permission applications in their area by SMS or email. For this Phil, a Twilio evangelist, used his company’s services. Through this residents can subscribe to a thread to track the application, find out when a meeting is and potentially make comments on live applications online.

Planning PermiSMSion Screenshot
Planning PermiSMSion Screenshot


Hackney Treasures

Team: Cybersalon – Fako Berkers, Sophia Drakopulou, Niki Gomez, Filip Janczak, James Moulding, Eva Pascoe, Simon Sarginson

The team from Cybersalon took a different approach to the hack, deciding to work on a tool to map notable local residents. Introducing their hack, the team described how through their tool ‘Hackney Treasures’ they wanted to celebrate the work of local residents and remind people of all the creative and interesting minds that live among us. The main interface is a smartphone app drawing on wiki data assigned with Hackney borough geolocation tags. As users walk around the app traces their steps and provides them with wiki quotes and tidbits on the lives of local residents and their connection to Hackney.

Screenshot 2014-11-16 13.29.43
Hackney Treasures screenshot

Fix Hackney **WINNERS**

Team: Moreno Bonaventura, Shavin Fonseka, Jacopo Hirschstein and Viktor Zyakhor

The Hack-ney-thon winners produced a dashboarding hack to gather and visualise issue reporting by ward across Hackney ie: broken street lights, fly-tipping, noise etc. To collate the information the backend enables the centralisation of reports as they come through on a range of feeds via social media, mails, calls and texts etc. Each report can be viewed on the map enabled by OpenStreetMap with supplementary data such as description, picture, previous reports, comments etc. Then through the Fix Hackney interface users can synthesize and relate data per ward. Data can be tracked over time and council performance can be assessed in analysing things like cost vs response rate. This clean way to interact with and digest information can potentially help the council to plan resources and budget in the future.

Fix Hackney screenshot
Fix Hackney screenshot


Hack Prop

Team: Dalton Scott and Roslyn Scott

Hack Prop sees our youngest participant – Dalton – and his mum Roslyn work on a web application that looks to reduce the amount of phone calls into the council switchboard relating to booking viewing appointments for council lets. Using both Twilio and BookingBug they have refined the current from found here: into 14 short steps. In addition potential tenants can view a 360degree view of each property.

Dalton presenting the hack
Dalton presenting the hack

Hackney Hero

Team: Abdul Hassan and Hannah Dalgleish 

Hackney Hero is also based on issue reporting but concerns itself with an earlier stage in the process to Fix Hackney.

To begin with the team recognised how cumbersome it could be to report an issue via the appropriate area on, stating that it may be over complicated and that it could dissuade users from completing their report. It’s important to acknowledge the effort of residents in helping to look after the borough, taking time out (albeit short) to contact the council and describe the issue or provide feedback. The team conducted a OnePulse survey and found that although the majority would be willing to report an issue they were unclear as to how or were short of time. The team focused on reporting issues via smartphones while out and about in the borough. Through the interface users complete a number of quick questions using dropdown menus and have the chance to upload a photo directly. All this information is then gathered in a database and can be searched by council staff by category/issue/date.


Mash the Web

Team: Hon Guin Lee

Hon built a responsive web app that allows users to see all the statutory planning permissions in Hackney borough. Users can then drill down an view individual notices and related committee notes.

The app is based on HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, Google Maps, MapBox, and the power of the app runs on google fusion tables on This enables a single point of update to link locations and documents together.

We’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who took part in Hack-ney-thon, especially to participants for giving up their weekend to join us. Hackney council is committed to adopt working solutions and each one of the hacks developed will be presented to senior staff at a special meeting on 25 November 2014.

Judging panel

  • Christian Ahlert, MiniBarLabs
  • Gerard Grech, CEO, Tech City
  • Sophie Higgins, Special Projects Officer, Hackney Council
  • Andrew Sissons, Head of Regeneration Delivery, Hackney Council
  • Anthony Truffour, GIS Technical Manager, Hackney Council
  • Duncan Ray, Shoreditch Town Centre Manager, Hackney Council

Criteria; usefulness, technical sophistication, cost reduction, social/public impact and creativity


Delivery Partners: Hackney CouncilPublicis DrugstorePokeThe Trampery Old Street

Tech Partners: Bare ConductiveBookingbugEstimoteMongo DBOnePulseTechnology Will Save UsTwilioWhat3words,

Outreach Partners: TechCity UK



Hack-ney-thon: GiS GitHub Now Online

Hackney Council’s Geographical Information Systems (GiS) team have put together a special GitHub for Hack-ney-thon 2014 ( with lots of data on local services and planning.

About the Geographical Information Systems (GiS) team

A Geographic Information System“ (GIS), captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data that refers to or is linked to a location. In the strictest sense, the term describes any information system that integrates, stores, edits, analyzes, shares, and displays geographic information. In a more generic sense, GIS applications are tools that allow users to create interactive queries (user created searches), analyze spatial information, edit data, maps, and present the results of all these operations.

The council is committed to meet the specifications of the EU’s INSPIRE Directive (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community – Through their work the GiS team have developed several tools such as; Map.Hackney2.0; MapGallery; Plan Web and the resident facing Find My Nearest ( – an interactive mapping tool using council, OpenStreetMap and Ordnance Survey data. You can find out more about their interactive map projects here.

What’s on the GitHub?

The GitHub can be found here:

The data made available to the hack relates mostly to the council’s work on This is a collation of both open and newly gathered data on the local area. The menu below gives an indication of the types of information to be found, things like local services and amenities, transport links and importantly a significant amount of data on historic and current planning applications.

  • *Base Layers
  • __>OpenStreetMap
  • __>Ordnance Survey
    __>Hackney Wards
    __>Hackney Parks
    *Housing Neighbourhoods
    __>Water Regions
    __>OS 500m Grid
    __>OS 1Km Grid
    *Community and Living
    __>Places of Worship
    *Council and Democracy
    _>Polling Stations
    *Education and Learning
    __>Primary Schools
    __>Secondary Schools
    __>Independent Schools
    *Environment and Planning
    __>Listed Buildings
    __>Tree Preservation Orders
  • __>Pollution
  • __>LDF
  • __>Planning Applications
  • __>Growth Centres
    __>Conservation Areas
    *Health and Social Care
    __>Dental Surgeries
    __>General Practice
    *Leisure and Culture
  • __>Exercise and KeepFit
  • __>Football
  • __>Leisure Centres
  • __>Sports Club
  • __>Swimming
  • __>Table Tennis
  • __>Tennis
  • __>Water Sports
  • __>Youth Clubs
  • *Parks
  • __>Bins
  • __>Seating
  • __>Lighting
  • __>Bollards
  • __>Signs
  • __>Drains
  • *Transport and Streets
  • __>Bus Stops
  • __>Cycle Stands
  • __>Car Club Bays
  • __>Barclays Hire Bike Stands
  • __>Cycle Network
  • __>Controlled Parking Zones
  • __>Disabled Parking Bays
  • __>Train Stations
  • __>Underground Stations

The files are available on GitHub in Geojson and you can also download .csv files directly here: See the below image on how to save them to your desktop.

In addition, the GiS team have also put together a small list of data they have gathered from elsewhere: This includes; Edubase education data, an education API from TSO OpenUpLabs, Ordnance Survey OpenData and Tfl Open Data.

Richard Pope’s Top Tips for Hack-ney-thon

Richard Pope from Government Digital Service has kindly put together this great list of guides, tools and related projects to refer to for our Hack-ney-thon.

Government Services Design Manual
From April 2014, digital services from the government must meet the new Digital by Default Service Standard. To help anyone looking to build new tools and services the GDS have produced a Government Services Design Manual. Although different to working with local councils the manual could provide some useful general advice for the hack.

Google Analytics Dashboard
Edd Sowden, frontend developer at the GDS, has recently used the Google Analytics dashboard to display real time searches on the GOV.UK site for others in the office as a way to ‘remind people that there are real people out there interacting with the site we are building, who have real user needs they want solving.’ He then went on to make this code available for use to both Code for America and the Citizens Advice Bureau. Here is his GitHub.

Planning Alerts
Planning Alerts is a piece of open sourced software built on Ruby On Rails by OpenAustralia. It’s a free service that alerts users via email of any planning applications sought in their area. The purpose of which is ‘to enable scrutiny of what is being built (and knocked down) in peoples’ communities.’ It was successfully re-used by My Society during a recent sprint with Hampshire Hub Partnership. Here’s the Planning Alerts GitHub.

Smart Answers
Smart Answers is a framework for creating decision trees. Working in partnership, content designers and developers at the GDS have devised a system that guides customers through a series of questions in order to narrow down their problem and offer them helpful advice quickly and easily.

Performance platform
Performance Platform is a dashboarding tool to display performance data about services. It provides real time and archived data on site activity and services accessed. There are currently 106 dashboards to view. The platform was developed with groups like government service managers, journalists, students and researchers in mind, or members of the public interested in finding out how public services are doing. It has also been successfully applied to local government services such as the Warwickshire County Council’s dashboard for library item renewals and Solihull Council’s dashboard for missed waste collections. The tool can be made available to participants during the hack.

Prison Visits Booking System
The Ministry of Justice Digital worked with HMP Rochester to develop a design pattern for booking appointments or visiting orders. The project was then rolled out across a number of pilot prisons to help standardise the process. This has transformed a once disjointed, paper reliant and complicated process meaning that now over 1.5million visits have been successfully navigated since launch. This is a well tested design pattern for booking appointments and can be made available during the hack.

Hack-ney-thon New Challenge: Statutory Notices App

Staff from Hackney Council have put together the following challenge for our hack-ney-thon.

Statutory notices App
The Council would like to increase the accessibility of information regarding statutory notices within the borough. It is important that local residents are made aware of planning and licensing applications in their neighbourhood and have an easier method of commenting on applications.

The current method of finding out about applications within the borough is via the following pages on the Council website:

Although all the information is available online, to access the information requires a proactive and dedicated approach to searching for the information. This process could be dramatically improved with a new system that would allow notifications to be sent to people who have expressed a prior interest in finding out about applications in their area.

The Council would like residents to be able to sign up for notifications for statutory applications in their neighbourhood. This could be done via an app where you would specify a particular address, a number of streets or by drawing a defined area of interest on a map.

Cllr Guy Nicholson Talking About Hack-ney-thon 2014

Cllr Guy Nicholson spoke about our upcoming Hack-ney-thon recently:

“Hackney, home to Tech City, has some of the best creative and tech talent in the UK and from around the world.

“The Hack-ney-athon is designed to harness that talent by collaborating with a range of creative businesses and individuals to enhance Hackney Council’s services. The objective is to design services that are efficient and provide a better quality service for residents.

“This event is an example of the Council’s continued partnership working with other local organisations, including the creative tech community, to help stimulate local economic growth in addition to supporting Council services at a time of Central Government led spending cuts.”

Cllr Guy Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Hackney Council

You can find out more about the hack event and sign yourself up here: