How a Hackathon Hacked Me


If you read my blog, I am sure you are very familiar with a hackathon and have probably even participated in a few. For those that have not (hi mom), this post is going to share what a hackathon is and the experience I have had with the ones I have recently organized and been involved with. It won't cover the events themselves, but more how it has affected me and my view on how to help facilitate the innovation I want to see in the world.


What is a hackathon?
Hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Occasionally, there is a hardware component as well. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week. 

Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software. Hackathons tend to have a specific focus, which can include the programming language used, the operating system, an application, an API, or the subject and the demographic group of the programmers. In other cases, there is no restriction on the type of software being created. - Wikipedia


I have participated in hackathons for the past few years and it all started with my first experience with the iPhone developer camp several years back. I personally have never won a hack, but it has always been a great way for me to improve my skills, help others where I can, and get exposed to some pretty amazing projects that get created over the course of a weekend. This really is the most impressive thing about hackathons to me. Folks come to the event with preformed or on the spot teams and work around the clock to create applications in just a few days. And it is not just for tech developers and designers but also open to those that just have an idea on how to improve something. A fair number of these weekend solutions and projects go on to become companies that address a specific market need.


This spirit of doing is what has motivated me to organize the AEC Hackathons and a few others that are going on this year. No I am not changing my career to be an event planner, but I do see the value of this type of event. I have witnessed first hand the innovation that can be created when one provides an environment for smart people to come, collaborate, explore, create, and solve problems.

I will say that being engaged in a hackathon beyond just as a participant has been a life changing ordeal. The energy and passion from the attendees is unlike any other event I have ever attended. At our last AEC Hackathon, I had a moment during the closing ceremony that was so profound for me that I logged it into my personal journal. "I looked out in amazement and it was at this moment that I lost all train of thought. I am standing in front of something powerful, a wave of energy and passion fueled by a thirst for change and improvement. I need to say something to keep things rolling as I am the MC, but I am so impressed with what has transpired I am at a loss for words. I am looking around a room of collaborators that just blew my mind in the quest for improving some element of the built environment. I have not known a lot of these people longer than this weekend but I sure respect the hell out of how hard they worked and pushed the envelope to make some process of our real world more efficient." I can think of no better way to bring about innovation and work with other talented passionate people.

Another interesting thing I have observed is how the spirit of a hackathon has changed the thinking of those from more traditional industries and their take on how innovation can happen. Unlike other events they are use to attending, it isn't about listening to a sage on the stage but rolling up your sleeves and getting stuff done. Following our AEC Hackathons, there have already been several other hackathons for those in the AEC space since.

I highly recommend attending a hackathon if you have not been to one. It is unlike any other event you will attend. I personally am involved with a few more coming this year that are outside the AEC space and I invite anyone to come join us. It will definitely change the way you see how innovation is made and just might hack your thoughts on how to bring about the change you want to see in your own industry.

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