In February, civic-minded coders and software programmers will be pulling an all-nighter at the library to create apps for improving Pittsburgh living during the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Steel City Codefest.

“The vast majority (of participants) do this for a living. They volunteer their time for fun,” says Jennifer Wilhelm, innovation and entrepreneurship strategist for the URA and director of the event. In its third year, the Codefest takes place from 8:30 a.m. on February 21st to 3:30 p.m. on February 22nd at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main.

Gearing up for Codefest, the URA is holding Let’s Mingle: a networking event! at 6:30 p.m. on January 9th at Bakery Living for local software types to meet and form teams before purchasing their $10 Codefest tickets. “We sell out every year,” says Wilhelm.

The 31-hour software app writing competition is limited to 100 participants, she continues, to maintain that sense of community. Divided into teams of three to six, focused and camped out in various spaces on the library’s second and third floors, the coders will be challenged with ideas from local nonprofits and government agencies to create an application that will provide a service to the community.

Take, for instance, last year’s winning app,, that alerts city residents to their household, recycling and yard waste trash pickup dates. “It was very simple, but people really loved this idea,” says Wilhelm.

Also from last year’s fest, an app for Planned Parenthood of Western PA called IOTAS (It’s OK to Ask Someone) was further developed, and its pilot program is launching next month. With a potential reach to 77,000 youth in Allegheny County, it will help the agency’s 180 peer educators provide the best answers to burning questions from 14- to 19-year-olds about birth control, pregnancy, STDs and much more.

“For the youth who are able to access (Planned Parenthood’s) textline, they will have more access to accurate sexual health information through a medium they are comfortable with,” says Katie Horowitz, vice president for education at Planned Parenthood.

This year there are a dozen challenges from which teams can choose to formulate ideas for their wonder app. For example, local home renovator for the elderly, military vets and physically disabled, Rebuilding Together, has suggested an app to help manage its volunteer information. And The Food Rescue Project sees a need for an app that will allow donors of fresh bread, produce and prepared foods to efficiently send alerts about available food for quick distribution.

The coders are also permitted to develop their own ideas, says Wilhelm. Grants to fund further development of the apps through execution are managed by The Forbes Funds with contributions from BNY Mellon Foundation, explains Wilhelm.

“The goal of the event is to find new ways to harness the power of technology and empower the public,” says Toby Greenwalt, director of digital strategy and technology integration at the library and a member of Codefest’s 19-member planning committee.

To get kids excited about writing helpful code, the Carnegie Library will also hold the first Codefest, Jr., for those in grades K-12, during the event at the library on Saturday at 12 p.m.

“Part of the library’s strategic plan is to focus on how the library can be an engine to drive the creative process. The information that is out there is no longer contained just between the pages of a book,” says Greenwalt.

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.