It’s amazing how far the hackathon community has come in just a few years. Back in February 2014, when Hackcon first kicked off in the cramped but homey AlleyNYC, the hackathon world looked very different than now. Major League Hacking had been founded just a few months prior, and the hackathon organizer community was still in its infancy.
Hackathons were popping up all across the country. Attendees were returning from larger hackathons and were starting to organize similar events at their own school for their own communities. Passionate organizers from all over worked to improve their own events, but were unable share with each other or differentiate their events. Enter: Hackcon.
The First Hackcon
The first Hackcon flipped our community upside-down. The Hackcon team realized that if they put 100 organizers in a room together, then the stories, discussions, and debates that would arise would completely change those organizers and the events they run.
With the help of my co-organizers Chris Yan and Dina Lamdany, I wrote a talk about DevFest, its values, and why ADI, the club behind DevFest, structured our event around learning, community, and creating a welcoming experience for first-time hackers. In sharing the mission of ADI at Hackcon, I found myself more strongly connected with the organizer community. For many speakers (myself included), Hackcon was their first real public speaking experience. There was a raw energy standing up in front of the room, an energy created by a group of 100 students all excited about the same thing. It’s fun to go back and watch how excited we all were to be talking on stage, finally able to share our enthusiasm with people who knew exactly how we felt.
Hackcon provided a space for organizers to share stories and work to improve hackathons. It was a platform for first-time organizers to learn about the nuances of running a successful event and gave veterans a new way of looking at their own events.
Hackcon II & III
After the first Hackcon, the inter-hackathon community exploded. The Hackcon Facebook group became a resource for organizers, and MLH curated and packaged content from Hackcon, making it accessible to future organizers. The Hackathon Hackers Facebook page was founded in June 2014, with the mission of bringing the entire hackathon community closer together. I remember being inspired by how Hackcon and the organizers I met there had changed how I thought about DevFest, and gladly accepted an invitation to join the planning team for Hackcon II.
If the first Hackcon was about creating a network of student organizers, then Hackcon II was about sustaining it. Set in Livestream Public in Brooklyn, NY, this Hackcon embraced a more discussion-focused format, with selected talks and a continued focus on community events. Talks focused more on how we can work on the problems hackathon organizers face. Discussions dove deep into unsolved issues, like how to make events more inclusive, how to deal with crisis situations, and how to build hacker communities.
As the team behind Hackcon, we knew that our most important job was to create spaces that would stir conversation between attendees. That focus on conversation and community building became the entire thesis of Hackcon III, which had unconference-style discussion groups that were formed on the spot, led by attendees and organizers alike. Held in July at GitHub HQ in San Francisco, Hackcon III established Hackcon as an annual summer event.
Hackcon III was in many ways a changing of the guard. Most of the speakers at the first Hackcon were seniors or recent grads, and it was clear that a new wave of organizers was growing. It was amazing to meet so many new and first-time organizers last summer, and hear about how they saw their events in a different light than the organizers just a year or two older than them. With Hackcon IV, our team wants to put the spotlight directly on them.
Hackcon IV: Campground Edition
Hackcon IV will be radically different from the Hackcons of years past. First and most noticeably, it’s being held in Estes Park, CO, on a beautiful campground, with plenty of natural beauty all around. By removing attendees from the normal rush of a city setting, we will give them space to engage more meaningfully with each other, and hold even more impromptu conversations.
We’re also looking to empower even more first-time speakers at Hackcon IV. For everyone who applied to speak, we’ll be offering consulting on how to structure and deliver their talks. I hope that all of Hackcon IV’s speakers have the same experience I had in 2014. Speaking is both incredibly scary and tremendously empowering. It both gave me confidence in my work at Columbia and started conversations I could never have had otherwise.
Finally, because we won’t be hosting Hackcon IV in a city anymore, we’re upping our game when it comes to community bonding events. While we don’t want to spoil the surprise, it’s safe to say we’ll be taking full advantage of our time out in nature.
It has been a huge honor to help think about how the next generation of hackathon organizers will change our community and the events we all know and love. I can’t wait for everyone to share in what the team has come up with this year. It’s going to be great!
Originally published on Medium.
All photos courtesy of MLH.