On February 21–22, 2015, the HackMIT team organized the second annual Blueprint, a high school learnathon and hackathon. Blueprint was conceived by the HackMIT ’13 team’s freshman members. Last year, the freshmen organized the first Blueprint as a one-day hackathon held at Google. This year, we continued the tradition of Blueprint being organized by the new members of the HackMIT ’14 team. Our team consisted of 7 freshmen, 5 sophomores, and 1 junior. For all but one of us, HackMIT ’14 was the first hackathon we helped organize. When tasked with putting together Blueprint from the ground up, it’s fair to say that we had little to no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Rewind to October 2014. Scrolling back in time in the HackMIT Google calendar, I’m still amazed that the first Blueprint meeting was held before Halloween. It’s pretty amusing looking through my archive of Blueprint emails. In the entire month of November our team’s biggest accomplishment was setting up the firstname.lastname@example.org email and email@example.com internal team mailing list.
Going into winter break, we had a meeting about branding and threw out various disjointed logo ideas but still had no clear vision of Blueprint’s image. We’d talked to MIT’s Media Lab as a potential venue but nothing had been finalized. The only certainty about Blueprint was a list of uncertainties.
To expect that we’d make substantial progress over winter break was perhaps a bit optimistic. By the time the New Year caught up to us, however, our team had become a bit more organized internally. The beauty of the HackMIT team is its flat structure that maximizes flexibility. Anyone can appoint themselves as point person to a certain task, meaning that each person can take on as much and as little responsibility as they want. When everyone works on tasks they choose themselves, they tend to be far more self-motivated. Our Blueprint team began to organize itself into more concrete roles. Jack ’18, Anish ’17, and Edwin ’16 were on point for dev, Maggie ’18 was on food, Jane ’18 and Ben ’17 were on branding, Carlos ’17 was on outreach, Rajeev ’18 and Sabrina ’18 were on teaching/mentoring, and Kimberli ’18 and I were on logistics.
On January 2, almost exactly one month after our target date, we (finally) finalized our logo and launched the Blueprint website! We sent email blasts to local high schools and publicized on our Facebook page. That cued an overwhelming influx of Simple Form emails from everyone who signed up online—303 emails, to be exact. It’s times like these that you thank your rational self for not using Outlook.
Over IAP (Independent Activities Period) during the month of January, the pace of our work picked up. Unfortunately, I was not on campus over IAP. Virtually joining meetings via Hangouts and asking people to repeat their comments louder approximately thirty times per meeting was quite the struggle. Nonetheless, our team achieved several important milestones. The Stata Center and Media Lab were confirmed as our venues. After pushing back the registration system launch date a seemingly infinite number of times, registration successfully launched at the end of January. We reached out to high school students to register and college students to mentor. Perhaps most importantly, the team migrated from GroupMe to Slack for internal “work-only” conversations. Many tears were shed.
We also juggled with various ideas for our event format. Our team talked about categories for the hackathon, divisions based on difficulty level, company mentors, and panel-style judging. Many of these ideas were discarded or modified before the final product.
After returning to school in February, our team launched into full speed. We decided to hold one meeting and two GSDs (Get Stuff Done) each week. The three weeks leading up to Blueprint were the most satisfying for me, as our team grew even closer by virtue of spending ridiculous amounts of time with each other. To give you an idea of the pre-Blueprint life…
What started as a typical GSD to read applications transformed into a GSD-athon when Jack announced in the middle of the meeting that school was closed the next day because of the weather. We continued parsing applications and discussing judging without paying attention to time. It was not until Edwin’s laptop chimed “It’s 4 ‘o clock” that we turned to each other and realized that we’d been in the room for 12 hours! Tired, we trudged back home, with Kimberli and Jennifer taking a Lyft to their dorms. Yes, from Lobby 7 to Next/Simmons. May the 12-hour GSD of Building 1 go down in history.
The following morning I woke up around 2 pm, barely caught lunch, then headed to the next Blueprint GSD. You can imagine our [elation?] when we were notified of yet another snow day the following day. Thus the mantra of “Eat. Sleep. Blueprint” was instated. Sleep schedules were irreversibly altered, with Anish’s sleep schedule holding the record of shifting an entire 6 hours. I personally returned to my room past 3 or 4 am every night and immediately collapsed on my bed, often without even turning off my lights.
The weekend before Blueprint, after holding our normal meeting, Anish, Edwin, Jennifer, and I decided to GSD in the Media Lab’s 3rd floor lounge. Time passed by, and falafels and hummus were ordered around 3 am. The janitorial staff came and left, but we remained. Eventually Edwin and Anish returned to their dorms. But thanks to the comfy Media Lab couches and cold weather outside, Jennifer and I can now cross off “Sleepover at Media Lab” from our bucket lists.
The day before Blueprint, the TechX office temporarily engulfed Maseeh 2 under its domain. The 50+ packages previously housed in Jane and Sabrina’s room were dumped in the Maseeh 2 lounge, much to the utter confusion of non-TechX people living on the floor. We set up an assembly line of questionable efficiency to put together swag bags, completed last-minute dev work, and closed loose ends. To add to our sleepover bucket list, Edwin, David, Sabrina, and I went to sleep on the Maseeh 2 lounge couches around 3 am.
I woke up at about 6am for Blueprint’s learnathon. Michael ’17 and I set up A/V in all the learnathon rooms in Stata, while others on the team set up breakfast, registration, and signage. Students began to trickle in. Blueprint was starting.
The unexpected is always involved in any event. While dealing with uncertainty can be stressful, it’s often the most fun part of organizing events. For instance, somewhere along the line, our decision not to order neon yellow shirts translated into precisely the opposite. When the mentor tshirts arrived, we discovered that the white text couldn’t be read on the neon yellow background. But our team promptly rebounded by proposing the idea of decorating tshirts with Sharpies, which ended up being really fun for both staff and students!
There were other hiccups, like Edwin’s talk morphing into a 3-hour teachathon that absorbed the next teacher’s content. We dynamically shifted the content of the next talk to a presentation on security. Most students actually found it a lot more interesting and easier to follow at the end of the long day.
After the learnathon ended, our team was beyond exhausted. Still, our work was cut out for us. Everyone on the team pitched in to clean up all of Stata, make Uhaul runs, and unload all our packages on the 6th floor of the Media Lab. After Stata was cleaned, our team congregated in the Media Lab and systematically discussed our exact schedule and point people for the second day. We set up all the tables and registration booths before hitting the sack.
I woke up the second day to a phone call from a student asking if Blueprint was still happening despite the snow. Responding with barely comprehensible words in a half-asleep state, I hurriedly got out of bed and rushed to the Media Lab. Students had already begun arriving. I set up A/V while others ran the check-in tables.
I was overall very impressed with the hackathon portion of Blueprint, from an organizational standpoint. The livestream functioned properly, hackers had a comfortable amount of space, and meals flowed smoothly. Students made frequent use of Edwin’s mentor queue, and we had the opportunity to test run a new judging system.
Of course, not everything was perfect. One source of disappointment materialized when we discovered that the Lego blocks we ordered did not include any Lego blocks, as we’d hoped. Fortunately, our team came up with a creative solution — we used each Lego block as a trophy, with the prizes stored inside. It was a very creative marketing touch. Besides this, we also ended up with a ridiculous amount of food. Our leftovers were offered to Media Lab vultures and dumped in the TechX office.
Hearing Jack finish his last words as MC induced a collective sigh of relief from the entire team. We were so exhausted, but our work was not quite done. Everyone put in their last efforts to clean up the entire space. Through a combination of Uhaul trips and hand deliveries, we transported all our Blueprint packages from the Media Lab to the TechX office. How the TechX office can hold an exponentially increasing number of items while maintaining the same physical space still baffles me.
Afterwards, Jenny, Edwin, and I roamed around campus in the Uhaul for a while before finding a parking space. We then headed to the EECS student lounge and told ourselves we would catch up on the several years worth of work we’d fallen behind on because of Blueprint. In reality, we ended up ordering Chinese food and watching Arrested Development until about 5 am.
Blueprint 2015 was an incredible experience for me. Sometimes when I step back and think about it, I’m baffled by the entire concept. Who in the right mind would sacrifice their health, sleep, academics, and normalcy of life to organize an event for other people, let alone for themselves? In the grand scheme of things, one could argue that Blueprint is not such a high-impact or high-magnitude event that it warrants such levels of sacrifice.
But organizing Blueprint gave me a lot more than that. I’ve met an incredible group of people who have defined a large part of my experience at MIT. I find everyone on our team incredibly fascinating, whether because of their sense of humor, vision, admirable work ethic, or raw talent. I’m beyond happy that I’ve gotten closer to them through Blueprint, and I can’t imagine my college experience without them.
As I try to remedy my sleep schedule (who am I kidding—I’m writing this at 6 am), make use of all 14 meal swipes instead of 5, and catch up on several weeks worth of psets and readings, I ask myself one question:
Worth it? Definitely.