hackNY, hackathons, and COVID: what comes next?

Jacob Aronoff
Nov 17, 2020 · 4 min read
Jacob Aronoff presenting at the fall 2019 hackathon opening ceremonies
Me (Jacob Aronoff) presenting at the fall 2019 hackathon opening ceremonies

Hello World! I’m writing this to let you know that the hackNY hackathon is not returning for now. We’ve thought a lot about this decision, and hopefully this post will explain more about our conclusion. I cannot thank our alumni and volunteers enough for the many hours they put in to helping run our event.

Why am I writing this post, you may be wondering. Well, you may remember me from such emails to the hackNY community like “get ready for the next hackNY hackathon!” or “thank you to all the people who made our hackathon possible!”. I was a hackNY fellow in 2017, a mentor in 2018, and have been helping run the hackathons since 2017, so I’m sure you’ve seen many emails from me. I’m reaching out now with an update because it’s been more than a year since our last hackathon. A lot has happened both at hackNY and in the world, and I felt it was time I gave an update about hackNY’s hackathon. Our hackathon began more than ten years ago in April of 2010, and, to our knowledge, was the first ever student-only 24 hour collegiate hackathon. Since then, we have been running hackathons at least once a year. Ten years on, and in the midst of a pandemic, it felt it was the right time to ask ourselves some important questions about our event: what has COVID cost us? What are the most important aspects of our event that we can retain? What does the future of our event look like?

Our fall 2019 hackathon had me thinking a lot about that last question. We had another successful and warm event. I made sure to chat with a few of the attendees, many of whom said that hackNY felt like a “retro” hackathon, as we never attempted to “scale up” from the character of our 1st event. When I planned our event, it was my goal for the hackathon to be less focused on prizes and sponsorships (as other events did this much better), and more focused on what had always been our north star: hackers. I wanted to be sure that hackers felt like they were a part of our community while they were at the event; they would be surrounded by our alumNY and friends in the industry to support them. From the feedback we received from the event, I believe we’ve always achieved that goal.

COVID is forcing many communities to reset and rethink a lot of things, and I’ve been spending some of my own personal lockdown time rethinking our hackathons. The initial mission of hackNY from 2010 — to create and empower a community of student-technologists — has in many ways been achieved. We helped bring hackathons into the computer science zeitgeist, and in doing so empowered a new generation of talented hackers, bringing out the best in themselves and each other, and discovering how building in code can be collaborative and creative. In talking with alumNY, other organizers, and Chris Wiggins, Evan Korth, and Eric Wu (three members of the hackNY board, all of whom helped throw the first event in 2010), I gathered some core values to our hackathons: Build community. Learn. Teach. Take care of each other.

How can we preserve these values for an online event and, on an even longer horizon, a post-COVID world? hackNY is in a transformational phase right now. We’ve graduated from our humble beginnings to have a community of hundreds of alumNY around the world. Our mission is to build an inclusive and responsible innovation community in NYC. Although we could try and change our hackathon to have a more direct impact on our mission, we didn’t want to hastily change our format. For now, I don’t want to contribute to students’ zoom fatigue. I’m inspired by the efforts of our friends at MLH with their fellowship and their continuing support of the hackathon community. We are actively talking about what’s next and what’s best but for now we are not planning any additional hackNY hackathons. Instead, I’m gathering conversations with our alumNY, our friends in sister organizations like Girls Who Code and MLH, and attendees of prior hackNY hackathons to think through what will bring together and strengthen the community in the 2020s the way hackathons did in the 2010s? I’d love to hear from you!

It has been my pleasure, as an organizer and attendee, to have had the opportunity to build our hackathon community. Seeing hackers of varying interests and expertises come together to learn from each other and build something fun while getting to express their best selves is wildly rewarding. I understand that this is going to be difficult for our alumNY who’ve loved getting together during our hackathon weekend, please stay in touch in slack and over email while we run remote alumNY events! For hackers who are very interested in our fellowship, I would recommend checking out our blog for some testimonials and information about the summer and apply here to be considered for our next cohort!

As we think about the future of hackNY events, we would love your input. Please sign up here to be notified of future open discussions about our events. If you have any questions or any ideas you want to share with us immediately, please reach out to me at jacob@hackny.org. Please follow @hackNY to stay in touch!!

I wanted to give a final non-exhaustive thank you to the people who made our hackathons possible: Anina Karmen, Diana Kris, Douglas Rudolph, Shy Ruparel, Matt Troy, Chris Wiggins, Evan Korth, Eric Wu, Nolan Filter, Sruti Modekurty, Hanne Paine, Kings Kolache, Jamie Liao, Sean Zhang, Meghan Gill, Martha Edwards, Jun Woo Shin, Sam Azouzi, Kaitlyn Stewart, Cliff Lezark, Emily Lobel, Srihari Shankar, Dan Gorelick, Marley Alford, Sakib Jalal, Sam Agnew, the MLH community, our volunteers, our sponsors, the alumNY community, and most importantly, the hackers who attended our event ❤

hackNY

Blog posts by members of the hackNY community