Fares Alaboud: Changing Lives at HackLondon

On the weekend of the 28th of February, I had the honour of organising and running HackLondon, the largest UK hackathon I’ve ever been to, organised or seen with my own eyes. I had the pleasure of working with a team of inspiring and passionate people who I’ve never felt closer to in my life during the whole event. We expected a maximum of 200 people, and that’s how much we said we’ll have, just to attract more people.

What we didn’t know is that we ended up with at least 200 hackers and a sponsor deck that included the mighty Google, DuckDuckGo, Capital One, Dell and so many more. Joe Nash from MLH said that HackLondon was one of the most special to him, and that was one of my highlights of the whole weekend, as that man has attended thirty-odd hackathons.

At the end, I received a standing ovation from a crowd of over two hundred passionate human beings. I said I was proud of them, because they came here and I love seeing creativity flow through them. I was happy, but never proud. I thought I could have done so many things better, appreciated people a bit more and worked a bit harder (it’s always like that, isn’t it?) but my eyes opened to the most important element of organising hackathons only last night.

Roll back to the start of my second year (this academic year):

There’s this first-year computer science student with a visual impairment, I see him around campus using Accessibility features on his Mac to zoom in so much on the screen that the title of a file would fill up the whole screen. I TA (teaching assistant) for one of his programming lab sessions, and when I look at his code, I realise I still don’t write code as neatly or as efficiently as he does.

Fast-forward to a week before the hackathon, we received a message through the website:

Hi,
I have been trying to get a ticket to this event since the very first batch, unfortunately, due to my disability and visual impairment i have been unsuccessful as i cannot react fast enough to click. The tickets were sold out before i had a chance.
Is there anyway of still attending this event, as it would really be a great experience.

He was on the waiting list, and I released his ticket. I never made the connection, never thought it was this same person. To quote Phil (fellow HackLondon organiser), this is a perfect example of why waiting lists are important.

As I was getting into bed Monday night, just 24 hours after the end of HackLondon, a young man messaged me telling me I made an impact on his life by boosting his confidence and letting him participate at HackLondon.

When I saw who it was, when I saw his face, I felt choked up, and shared it with Phil. He then showed me the email. I cried like a child and lost hours of sleep, because that is when I truly felt proud of myself. This kid has talent but nowhere to let it out, and we opened up a door for him this weekend. These are his words:

Hey, would like to say thanks for organising the hackathon, you are honestly an inspiration. Seeing how hard you worked to pull of something that benefited so many people.
At hacklondon, i realised that taking part is the half story, and after hearing what you had to say all i can say is im proud of what you have done with Tech Society.
I was afraid to enter the hackathon, being visually impaired makes things harder, but the entire team of yours was nice to talk too, and made me feel like i belonged here, thanks. You have inspired me.

Life is a series of opportunities, and we either take them, ignore them or waste them. Sometimes, life gives us a handful to give away and I realise now that hackathons are the best way of doing that.

We are hackathon organisers, and we’ve opened up doors for so many people and I want you to all be proud of yourselves. Take a moment and think about what many people are doing today thanks to what you’ve done for them.

(The Collison Hub team won Best Freshers’ hack with their social network for students, by students. Check out their project HERE)

For those of you who attended, supported, volunteered, judged, mentored or even simply wished any of us luck, you’ve helped make a dent on the lives of so many people this weekend. I am so proud of you, I love you and I am grateful for what you’ve done.

Let’s keep the passion flowing.

Fares Alaboud is the Vice President of KCL Tech Society, and a passionate hackathon organiser. He is currently studying Computer Science at King’s College London.


Originally published at news.mlh.io on March 4, 2015.