Hackcon V

3 days beside a beautiful lake, under the summer sun. 400 avid hackers who care about the community. Thousands of ideas shared. That’s probably how I’d describe Hackcon V in three lines. But it is so much more than that. Hackcon is the annual conference that brings together some of the most passionate hackathon organizers around the world to share ideas and views on how to make the hackathon community a better place for everyone.

Here, I’d like to share some of the big things I learnt there.

The Themes

The three main themes at Hackcon this year were making the community more welcoming to beginners; making the community more inclusive and; engaging the community.

Hello, World!

Why do we need beginners at a hackathon? For sustainability — the same reason the society insists on educating the younger population. There needs to be a community after the current hackers graduate.

Hackathons can quickly get intimidating. Imagine being surrounded by 400 people who have an IQ of 200 for 24 hours. That’s how newcomers imagine themselves when they enter a hackathon. In reality, it is hardly the case. There is a dire need for every newcomer to realize this.

  • Having workshops aimed at beginners can definitely boost their confidence. Mock hackathons, like hack nights, can help them familiarize with the hacking ambience.
  • Most beginners fail to complete their project because they refuse to ask for help. And that’s because they think their question is “stupid”. But the experienced hacker knows that there is no such thing as a “stupid question”. This problem can probably be fixed by tagging experience hackers along with a novice or have a mentor dedicated to helping that team.
  • Another way to boost confidence and encourage more people to complete their project is to give prizes that are dedicated to beginners.

More Inclusive

The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about inclusivity is probably gender, race, religion, and nationality. But the term is much broader than that. For instance, the education level of participants, and the field the participants are studying are often overlooked in hackathons.

They’re usually dominated by college students studying computer science. There is a difference between diversity and inclusivity. As mentioned in the keynote by Alex de Aranzeta,

“Diversity is about inviting everyone to the party. Inclusivity is about asking them to dance.”

If you are not being inclusive, then having a diverse population at your event doesn’t really count towards anything that actually means something.

Engaging the Community

We need to engage the community and keep the momentum going even after the hackathon. Having lots of workshops, tech talks, coding nights, bar camps, etc. is probably a good way to do this. Involving enthusiastic professors and professionals from the community is another great idea. Finding other student clubs or meetups that have similar goals and interests, and helping each other is yet another great idea. This can also help expand the audience of both communities.

Final Words

I must still say that Hackcon was much more than that. Putting together everything that happened there would be nigh impossible. It must be something that must experienced. My favorite part was the final keynote given by Joe Nash from GitHub, “The Life of a Student Community”. This was my first Hackcon and I’m pretty sure that it won’t be the last. I will conclude by urging you to register for the next hackathon if you’ve never been to one before, and consider attending the next Hackcon if you’re already an avid hacker!