There’s nothing more magical than seeing someone enter their first hackathon.
On their face is a blank expression of some wonder, a little excitement, and a lot of confusion about what to expect. Do I grab the random shirts on these tables? Do I just set my laptop down somewhere? Can I eat these snacks? What even is a hardware desk?
At HackOverflow, Stanford’s first diversity-focused hardware hackathon, these questions and others swirled for the first few hours as many beginning hackers from all across campus got their feet wet at their first hackathon.
Looking down the rows of tables at Stanford’s d.school, it was just as common to see an Oculus Rift on someone’s face as it was to see a hacker hunched over her laptop, reading through StackOverflow pages. Our outstanding mentors from Facebook, Spark, Electric Imp, and countless others got hackers onboarded: everything from setting up a GitHub repo to connecting a Spark to WiFi.
Throughout the day, we had fantastic workshops that brought hackers from 0 to 60 MPH in hacking with Spark Core, Pebble watches, Leap Motion, and Arduino. Not only did hackers learn how to start their projects, they walked away with free Sparks and Leap Motions to keep hacking well after the end of HackOverflow.
As hacking ended, we welcomed an all-star panel of judges. We had Jeff Dean, a Google Senior Fellow and the mastermind behind MapReduce, alongside Mar Hershenson, an early investor in Dropbox and partner at Pejman Mar Ventures. The judging panel also boasted Peter Barrett, former CTO of Microsoft TV and CEO of Playground Global, and Jennifer Arguello, co-founder of the Latino Startup Alliance. They watched as hackers who had never before touched hardware or even worked on their own projects demoed haptic-controlled drones, virtual reality snowball fights, and wearables to detect medical emergencies.
HackOverflow was more than just a 12-hour event. It was a landmark in bringing together various communities at Stanford focused on hacking, hardware, gender diversity and racial diversity. The result was an incredible, vibrant experience at the event: hackers were learning, rapidly accelerating, and succeeding. Every commit was a landmark, and every error message was a victory because it took our awesome hackers closer to coming away with a product they’re proud of.
What made me smile at the end of the day and brings me joy every time I look back on HackOverflow is the bonds that were forged, the memories created, and the passions discovered. Folks found that they loved programming – that they could take skills or ideas learned in class and turn them into a real-world project.
I might have lied at the very beginning. There is something more magical than seeing someone enter their first hackathon – seeing someone fall in love with their first hackathon.