Social Hackathons — Why we do it!

Last weekend I had a great time with people that share the same passion for programming as me. The majority of folks attending hackathons are developers with various technical backgrounds, but we also work closely with designers and activists. This was the third social hackathon organized by a very talented group of people, members of the SEE ICT organization (better known as the Startit.rs team).

Social ‘Hakaton’ is just one of their trademark events, and it’s always about improving our society by covering topics like environmental protection, people with disabilities, animal care etc. Although Startit.rs and SEE ICT mainly focus on promoting entrepreneurship in Serbia, the apps made during the Hakaton are not built for profit.

Now that we’ve covered the nature of the event, I’d like to answers a few questions and share some of my impressions. (note: I’m writing this about 24 hours post-hackathon).

Why the hell would you give up sleep for 48 hours?

Let me be clear — hackathons are not really about sleep (or the absence of it). You are free to sleep whenever you want. Nobody gets disqualified for taking a power nap or curling up in a lazy bag in the corner. Instead, it’s usually the ambition and drive that keep you from sleeping. During the event’s 48 hours , you’re bound to get a bit of shut-eye somewhere along the way. Energy drinks and caffeine will take care of the rest.

You’re coding for free? Are you crazy or something?

I think most developers will tell you they truly enjoy programming. Yes, it is our primary source of income, but if you’re doing it right, that’s usually just a necessary byproduct (a good one nonetheless).

I usually hear my colleagues complain about how they would love to code in their free time but lack inspiration or just have too many distractions in their life. Well, when you’re in a room with 30–40 people, 10 of which are activists full of ideas, 10 are amazing designers and the rest are fellow developers, guess what? Inspiration — check! Distraction-free time? Hell, everyone’s only talking about their projects, and the organizers do a great job of making sure you don’t think too much about your basic needs (you know, trivial stuff like eating, drinking etc.). So there’s someone with an idea, a group of incredibly talented designers (I’m always stunned by their work. Note to projects managers — LET DESIGNERS DESIGN!), food/coffee/snacks/drinks/PS4… If that’s crazy, I’ll gladly leave my sanity at the door :D

Last but not least, there’s something jubilant in making a difference. You can directly help someone in a wheelchair find easily-accessible places (thanks to http://mapapristupacnosti.rs/) or alarm people if the local air quality is subpar, based on their GPS location. You can make it easy for people who care about recycling find spots to leave their recyclables etc. We work to live comfy, but why not help other people in the process?

What do you get in return?

Nothing. Contrary to other hackathons that are usually organized by companies and revolve around competition, this one does not. While there’s no competition (well…maybe just a little, but that ends with friendly betting ^^) there’s an enormous amount of cooperation. Your designers will also be helping on other projects. Developers that are done early will happily lend a helping hand to the neighboring team. So why do we (developers) do it? Because we love programming, we love spending time with other programmers and because it’s fun to see what you can do in 48 hours.

I’ve planned to share some of my impressions here as well, but this piece is already too long. I’ll leave that for another post coming tomorrow night (I promise!). Until then, if you want to learn more about this hackathon, make sure to visit http://hakaton.rs/ (unfortunately, there’s only a Serbian version of the site at the moment), and check out the photos from the event on their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Hakaton.