This weekend I attended a hackathon in Spokane, WA. In many ways it was the best hackathon I’ve attended this year, but compared to the typical hackathon of late it was all wrong. We were served pizza, sandwiches, and Costco muffins, rather than burritos, sliders, and artisan breakfast sandwiches. No beer was served. We couldn’t eat or drink in the room we were coding in. The organizer didn’t make a big deal of how much the participants could win, prizes were treated as afterthoughts. It was nothing like some of the hackathons I’ve attended recently.
In fact, the participants were different too. Not once did I hear someone in it for the prizes (although there may have been mention of the pretty rockin’ SendGrid Prize). In the first ten minutes of hacking, one of the participants suggested that everyone work together, to build something bigger. People learned new frameworks and put new ideas to the test. One team decided to try Node, Mongo, and Heroku for the first time. A team of one tried his hand at programming a Python webapp for the first time, and learned Flask. Yet another team adopted a project created by participants at a previous hackathon and extended it.
These teams won first, second, and honorable mention respectively.
At other hackathons, these teams may have been instructed to stick with what they knew, and only use their own ideas; as that would better assure them of winning a gigantic prize. Like I said, this hackathon was all wrong.
In many ways it reminded me of my first hackathon, where people welcomed my knowledge (or lack there of) and helped me to grow my skills, where the prize was a single iPad for the winning team, and we happily ate cold pizza for breakfast.
Spocode, as the event was called, had the city’s IT staff on hand the entire event. Several dedicated city employees stayed on hand the entire night ensuring the internet stayed up and that participants got the help and data they needed. The Mayor of Spokane even came to see the presentations at the end of the event.
This all goes to say, it’s not the size of the event, the production, nor the million dollar prize that matters, it’s the quality of the organizers, participants, and mentors that make or break an event. A great hackathon can be put on with next to nothing.
Organizing a great hackathon? We’d love to get involved, shoot us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.