HackCampus has been connecting the smartest student developers with London’s best startups since 2014. This is how it all began.
HackCampus was started in 2014 by a group of Computer Science students from Imperial College London and King’s College London. We had all come to London to build cool stuff & make our mark in the tech world, but we soon found that the famous “hacker mentality” of universities like MIT and Stanford was very hard to come by at universities in London. Instead, we encountered banks and established tech companies with huge graduate recruiting budgets, luring students with free pizza.
While you do learn a lot about software engineering and management processes at a large scale within those banks, it is often difficult to transfer those skills into your own projects: the internal systems at big companies are often completely different to what’s available in the “outside world”. We wanted to get the experience of working in small teams, and actually shipping features, rather than dealing with legacy systems and corporate processes.
How it all started
We first started HackCampus as a mailing list with events for like-minded “hackers”, and tried to organise events related to tech entrepreneurship in collaboration with our respective university tech societies. At King’s, one of our co-founders Ammaar Reshi helped found KCL Tech, a student society with a focus on tech entrepreneurship and mentoring. But his ambitions were bigger than that: what he really wanted, was a student tech society for all UK universities — HackCampus.
At Imperial, we organised a Startup Speaker Series — this is where I met Ammaar. At one of these sessions, Saul Klein, then a partner at Index Ventures, asked how he could help us. A couple of emails later, we were in the offices of Index Ventures, outlining our ambitious plan for a shared student hackspace in London.
That plan was totally unrealistic. But we landed on the problem that every startup in London has: they need software engineers but don’t know where to find them. They need developers fast, and they don’t have the time or money to go round university campuses. Likewise, students interested in startups often don’t know where to start.
Our first attempt to solve this was a startup careers fair at several UK universities. We attracted considerable interest, but not quite enough to justify the time we had put in. Speaking to Index Ventures’ Director of Talent Dominic Jacquesson, we realised we could have far more impact with internships: students would get real-word experience inside small companies, while the companies could use that time to figure out their own graduate recruitment process. So we asked ourselves, what would our dream internship programme look like?
We loved the idea of a batch experience where students could learn from each other. We loved the idea of working at a startup and we really wanted it to be in London. So what if it was exactly that? An internship in London, at a startup of your choice, while getting the Y-combinator style batch experience and living in London for free? That’s what HackCampus had to be.
From Zero to One
Supported by Index Ventures, two of our founders, Ammaar and Ben Chin, spent the summer of 2014 at King, getting the programme off the ground. At the same time, I was in New York, where I visited an event by HackNY — an internship programme started by professors at Columbia and NYU. The HackNY cohort lived together during the summer, forming an incredibly strong network and getting a real inside look into New York’s startup scene. It was exactly what I imagined a strong community of student programmers to look like, and I knew that I wanted to put my effort into creating a similar community in London.
The next year was full-on. Juggling coursework and exams, figuring everything out as we went along, and desperately looking for students and startups to take part in our programme, we managed to bring together our first cohort that summer. We’ve organised the programme every year since — and we’ve learnt a lot along the way.
Now in our fourth year, we’re seeing the pay-off. Two interns from our third cohort, Alicia and Diana, took on full-time jobs as software engineers at Deliveroo and Credit Benchmark (both supporters from early on). More than once, we’ve heard the phrase, “our intern is better than some of our developers with five years of experience”. And while many prospective startups say they don’t have the resources to mentor interns, nearly all of our hosts say that their team is stronger from day one. Interns ship production features, fix bugs, and create internal tools that live far beyond their time at the company.
HackCampus works because we look for appetite, not experience. Passion for code, joy in learning, and sharing knowledge are all much more important than the number of badges on your CV. If that sounds like you, apply for an internship with us next summer!
If your team could use a talented software engineering intern, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.