Spectra & The Start of Something Great
Just two days after Spectra hosted its inaugural women’s hackathon at YouTube HQ in San Bruno, CA and I have so many emotions.
Spectra started as a little idea by Christina Cook back in January 2016 in the Facebook group, Ladies Storm Hackathons. Chance would have it that I would happen to see her post while scrolling through my newsfeed. Little did I know that in expressing my interest in helping make her idea come to life, I would be joining a 7-month whirlwind of a ride.
Mind you, I had never participated in a hackathon before as a hacker — I always seemed too busy or didn’t have any ideas of what I would build. But organize a brand-new hackathon from scratch? Sign me up. In my two years and counting at Stanford University at the heart of Silicon Valley, there have been few things more important to me than exposing girls and young women to STEM, as well as encouraging them to fall in love and stay in an industry where we are simply not equally represented.
In my role as the Director of Marketing along with the invaluable Janet Fang, I saw what it was like to construct an entire brand and event from the ground up. Besides managing Spectra’s social media channels, I worked closely with the Design and Technical teams to create the public image of Spectra, the Sponsorship and Logistics teams to integrate our work with the event itself, and the rest of Directors to nail down every last detail of the event.
As a new hackathon, we definitely had our challenges. Our 27-person team was spread around the country, encompassing students and full-timers. Weekly meetings were held across time zones on Google Hangouts. In fact, the majority of this whole operation was accomplished online within our small community.
When the day finally came, it was surreal. Finally, all of our hard work was going into one jam-packed Saturday at YouTube’s headquarters. Many of the organizers met each other in-person for the first time. We tidied up our registration table, organized hacker swag, made last-minute adjustments to our plans, and prepared to welcome the first hackers through the doors. This was it.
Attendees started streaming in and pretty soon I was running around, putting out logistical fires left and right. Behind the scenes came a barrage of emails, messages, and tweets asking about a wide range of issues. One minute I was paging a fellow Director on my walkie-talkie, the next I was handling the rapid fire of notifications on Slack on my phone. And on top of that, I set out to photograph the event from start to finish, not missing a beat.
Thankfully, after a few hours came a lull in the day as teams busied themselves with their hacks. I appreciated the chance to walk around and interact with hackers, visit some of the workshops, and immerse myself in the welcoming environment that we had set out to create. But of course, it wasn’t long before the organizing team was up and at it again, setting up project demos and getting ready to finish out the day.
At the closing ceremony, I had the honor of awarding the winners of our social media competitions. Standing on stage and looking out at the crowd of hackers who had spent their day with us, our reason for doing all of this became tangible. This group of 200+ women and allies could have spent their Saturday anywhere else, but they chose to come to Spectra. For some of the hackers, Spectra was their first hackathon or even their first time coding. They learned new skills and technologies at our workshops, made lasting friendships, and inspired each other as well as us.
To each and every hacker who came out last Saturday and blew us away with what you built in less than twelve hours, thank you for making this event the success that it was. To all the volunteers, mentors, YouTube personnel, and other staff, thank you for supporting us behind-the-scenes. And to my Spectra Squad and fellow organizers, thank you so much for all the work you put in to turn a dream into reality. I am so grateful and proud and you have given me an experience I will never forget. And I can’t wait to see what Spectra becomes in the future.