This past weekend was our third annual ATX Hack for Change. It was still hosted at St Edwards University, but this time it was organized by the City of Austin’s Innovation Office. While Kerry O’Connor is the Chief Innovation Officer, her staff ran much of the show over the weekend. I was lucky enough to be invited to serve as MC for the second year and represented Clarify.io.
Overall, the event was great. The attendance, the vibe, the projects, the demos, and the food made an event that I am proud to have been a small part of.
Doing something clever at a hackathon is great but impacting and potentially saving lives is something else entirely.
The thing that struck me was after the event when I saw this tweet:
It’s not relevant who said it, I’m more concerned about the sentiment.
At many hackathon/startup-building events, there’s always that person. They have the “greatest idea” and know exactly how it should be built but since they’re not a developer, they don’t know how. In fact, they often utter something like:
“I just need a developer to build it.”
If you’re a developer and hear someone say that, run away. Quickly.
If you’re non-technical and have said that, go home.
This is a dangerous person to work with. Here’s what they’re really saying:
“Even though I don’t know how to code, I know exactly what needs to be done. In fact – as the idea person – my part of the project is much more important than yours. You are easily replaceable and are unlikely to bring any value to the project. Give me the code and move along.”
And all of that boils down to simple truths:
- They don’t want you on the team, you are their free labor.
- They don’t want your experience, they know what needs to be done.
- They don’t want your creativity, you are to follow their directions.
- They don’t want your understanding, they just want their code.
At hackathons, there will be people with a variety of knowledge, skills, and abilities. You will overlap with some and complement others. It is your opportunity to learn, experiment, and fail with minimal risk. You won’t lose your job. You won’t lose credibility with colleagues. You won’t waste weeks or months on a dead-end project.
The only thing at risk is a day or two of effort.
If you attend a hackathon with a preconceived notion of recruiting a team to build your Vision, on your terms, for your benefit, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, you should attend to learn more about the skills and understanding you need or that you need to hire for in your team.
And if you’re really lucky, you’ll find one of those people to hire.
Update: If you’re looking for some ideas on how to approach a hackathon the Right Way, check out my post called “Howto: Be Successful at a Hackathon.”