Hackathon – it’s that term that floats around without a real meaning until you’ve experienced it and thanks to HackHub, an experiential recruiting company, 500 undergraduate students learned for themselves what a hackathon really is at EduHacks 2017. ‘Hacking,’ in this context, is to creatively explore and overcome the limitations of software systems to achieve innovative results – not its alternative meaning in association with digital crime.
According to Yan Hong, HackHub’s CEO and five-time hackathon attendee, a hackathon is a 1-2 day event where computer programmers, designers, and other innovators come together to bring ideas to life. Multidisciplinary teams compete for a grand prize, often using the open source library, existing hardware, and simply their creativity and knowledge to make remarkable projects that deliver new perspectives or ways of doing things.
EduHacks was a 24 hour hackathon to bring student talent together and to give them an opportunity to connect with industry professionals. In a group of 1200 registrants, EduHacks had over 30% female signups and international students from Seattle, Chicago, and India.
I had the chance to talk to a few first-time hackathon attendees and mentors, and according to them, here are are four things a hackathon is about.
It’s about innovation and creating change
All hackathons have a different focus but the one thing they have in common is their goal to drive innovation and create change. The very nature of the event – to bring a new idea to life – demands that its participants think of something that hasn’t been done before and when you put 500 creators together, you’ve got a powerhouse of ideas.
The winning team created DashView.org, a platform that allows students to access anything they might want while studying, all in one spot, including course material, deadlines, messages, and of course, music and Facebook. DashView reduces clutter in your browser allowing for a smoother and more efficient work process. In addition to the grand prize of $10,000, DashView.org received a month of membership at VentureLabs and access to downtown office space, allowing them to continue working on their beta project.
It’s about making connections
In a room of over 500 people, it’s natural to connect with other like-minded individuals; students were surprised at how easy it was to talk to strangers. One purpose of EduHacks was to open up doors for students by connecting them with industry professionals. CTO’s, Lead Engineers, and Entrepreneurs from the local ecosystem provided mentorship and support, giving technical and inspirational advice to students. Sitting on the panel were some of Vancouver’s top industry figures including Sarah Lubik (Director of Entrepreneurship, Simon Fraser University), Hussein Hallak (Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, and General Manager at Launch Academy), and Andro Atienza (Lead UI and Communications Design Instructor at RED Academy). Students were able to form relationships with these professionals, learning from their expertise and knowledge.
It’s about challenging yourself and finding that you have what it takes
If you’re heading into a hackathon for the first time, you won’t know what to expect. As some EduHacks attendees had done, you might impose barriers on yourself but you’ll soon realize that those barriers can be broken down and by challenging those assumptions, you’ve already become a different person.
One first time hackathoner, PJ Dong, said “I kept putting a barrier on myself, thinking that hackathons were full of genius coders who started coding at age 12 or have been studying computer engineering but now that I’ve been through one, I feel a lot more confident! I got over my fear of being less skilled and knowledgeable than others, and realized that we’re all students who are learning about the tech industry.”
It’s about discovery
Finally, hackathons are catalysts for discovery/incubators of discovery . Surrounded by industry professionals and other talented students, EduHacks attendees were able to see what their future might look like. They discovered more about themselves, technology, and the world around them through hands-on, real life projects.
Johanan Agarwal, another first time hackathoner, learned the importance of self-taught programming and is now planning to learn skills such as node JS, Python, and Git for future hackathons; other attendees now better understand what kind of career and industry they would like to be in. The experiences gained at EduHacks will help give students the confidence to try new things, as well as the skills and mindset to bring their ideas to life.
Now that Eduhacks has passed, Yan encourages students to use the experiences gained at EduHacks to continue challenging themselves and building their ideas. The challenges they overcame, and connections and discoveries they made can all be used to push them forward in an innovative direction.
There are plenty of resources online that support self-learning, and HackHub also provides a variety of courses taught through their WebDxD program. HackHub’s platform also provides an online community space where students can showcase their portfolios and get the opportunity to be hired through HackHub’s hiring system.