This post is a response to Ian’s post .
Hackathons don’t create new hackers.
This is not completely true. Hackathons have definitely proven to me that people can build some really silly shit over night; some of which who doubted their skill and cursed all throughout the night. This would have been more accurate if phrased “Hackathons aren’t a place to do a startup pitch. It’s a hackathon not a pitchathon”; that’s something hackathons have definitely run amok with.
If all of one’s knowledge of computer science is from class, I don’t think that a hackathon is a good place for them to be because they won’t be able to get the most out of their hackathon experience. They won’t know how to provision a server to host the app. They won’t even know how to start creating an application in the first place. Recognizing that they can’t contribute anything to the project, they feel useless (which to some extent is true).
This, I feel, comes from a mismanagement of the team. The first thing I tend to do whenever I’m a hackathon with a new team is take 10 to 15 minutes to determine the following about the team:
- Who’s really good at X?
- Who’s really bad at X?
- Who are the blacksmiths?
- Who are the minutemen?
Blacksmiths are people who can take a set of steps and hammer them out without too much questioning. Minutemen are people who can relay a message from one person to another without too much latency and who can translate it if necessary. It’s similar to having product owners and engineers on an agile(-ish) team.
Also when you’re able to determine who can do what, it becomes a lot easier to see who should handle what parts of the app (or apps) over a mini roadmap of sorts. Some people don’t agree with this “over-planning” and think it takes away from the moment. I’m one to plan as often as I can so this seems like second nature.
Instead, you should seek out the people who are already making things: people who are already programming using real-world technologies. Find people who have been making websites or apps, and convince them to travel and get free food to build something cool over a caffeinated and high energy weekend.
This is easy to do if you have a bunch of friends who code and tend to frequent to hackathons on nearly-bi-monthly basis. Living in New York, hackathons (read: not pitch-a-thons) are a dime a dozen and not too many people I know tend to be engineers (that I speak to on a regular basis as well as share a cup of tea with).
The resonating point of Ian’s post lies here:
Hackathons don’t create new hackers, but they guide and motivate existing hackers with potential.
Couldn’t agree more.