One week later - The final hackdown

It’s all wrapped up, I’ve had some sleep and more time to really think through what it meant to be part of the Hacking the Future of Work hackathon this weekend.

Here are some final thoughts in no particular order:

Work, work, work

The first thing that stands out to me is the sheer amount of work an event like this takes. There’s the planning, the fundraising, the coming together and hashing out ideas for projects (which alone took over 4 hours!), organizing food, travel reimbursement, figuring out how 60+ people can operate in one large open concept space, and so on and that doesn’t even count the work that the participants put in over the 72 hour period.

Ideation: Choose your own adventure

Coming into this event I knew it was going to be a lot of hours and that things were intense as teams pulled ideas together, but I don’t think I realized just how much time is involved to really flesh out ideas in practical terms. The people who pitched the ideas that were voted on to be presented at the weekend hackathon were coming at it from one perspective, but once you get an entire team behind an idea you start to see the various ways it can be interpreted and how many opportunities there are to choose your own adventure in terms of where the project ends up. I think every group had at least one experience of realizing the path they were going down may not have been the best one, and having to backtrack a bit or change things around to make it more logical for their project. As a student of democracy and ensuring all voices are included, I found the cacophony to be really inspiring. There is beauty in chaos, and hackathons are a great example of that.

The host

I also learned that there is huge importance behind finding the right space for a project as time-intense as this. Teams had places to go for sleep, but other than that spent their entire weekend within the same 4 (large!) walls. I felt that the Impact Hub was an excellent venue. It was comfortable and spacious, every team had an area of their own. It was well lit and still felt cozy. There was lots of space for teams to map out their ideas. The staff on hand were all friendly and helpful. I found out Sunday that it was their first time hosting an event like this and I hope it was a positive experience for them because it worked really well.

Diversity our strength

Two things that I mentioned on Friday but wanted to reiterate: The diversity in the room was inspiring, in terms of age, gender, level of awareness of program development, available data and prediction of employment trends, skillsets, everything. I can see a key factor in success being the ability to bring a large array of voices into the room.

Fuel

Another less important point but a point still the same: I was really happy to see the variety of healthy food available for people. I have learned that bottomless coffee and snacks are definitely a hackathon necessity!

Feedback is priceless

I know different hackathons have different purposes, and some hackathons have judges who award prizes to the top/top 3 teams. I like that with this hackathon it was less about judging and more about a panel that was a cross-section of people who gave feedback and the ultimate goal was to create projects for the greater good. What participants got out of it was the chance to work for positive change, and the opportunity to network with leaders in their respective fields of interest. That’s pretty neat if you ask me.

I was surprised initially that there wasn’t an end-user or two on the panel but realized quickly that with the wide range of products it may have been hard to pinpoint exactly what type of end user would benefit from each project. That and when the hackathon is being organized no one could predict the types of applications and services that would be presented so I can’t imagine trying to find end-users for an unknown product!

Data enthusiasts

Being interested in data, it was also neat for me to see what level of engagement each group had with what was available. There were some sets that were used by almost every team, and if a group didn’t have the data available that they felt they needed, they’d do a search or scrape of the data available online. These participants really know their stuff.

Commitment

On the way home I was on the same bus as one of the hackers. We chatted briefly before he got off the bus. He was telling me how he is in undergrad at university, and had two midterms and a project due this week, after the ½ hour bus ride home. This is another important lesson – these folks are leaving their hometowns, families, school work and other work behind for 72 hours to focus solely on solutions. Like I said on Sunday – everyday heroes.

Hacking is for you, too!

I’ll end with a final thank you to everyone who came together to make this event the success that it was. I can say that I am definitely inspired and looking forward to seeing what the next steps are that come out of all of the work done this weekend. Being part of this hackathon gave me a lot of hope about the state of the world. I can suggest is that if you’re feeling the need for an inspirational boost, check out the next local hackathon in your community. You just may find the energy and positivity you’ve been missing!

Chelsea Robinson-Sharman, #HackFoW volunteer, signing off