When you’re a 29-year old tech journalist having never written a line of code, a hackathon can be a peculiar place to find yourself—literally and figuratively. You spend most days covering everything from node.js to Oculus Rift, only to find yourself in a university auditorium filled with hundreds of bright-eyed hackers doing way more interesting things with technology than you thought were possible.
But a bit of background first. In college, I studied English and journalism, which is to say I find long division challenging. While most of my very Russian family is comprised of programmers, I somehow landed squarely in the liberal arts camp. But the nerd force is strong in me. Esoteric gadgets are a long-standing passion. Tech journalism comes naturally. I was the first level 50 wizard on my EverQuest server. One thing to know about tech writers is that most of us secretly want to be software engineers.
My first hackathon was HackRU, hosted by none other than my alma mater, Rutgers University (go Knights!). Having never been to one before, my initial takeaways upon stumbling into a 1,000-strong hackathon were almost purely superficial: “Whoa, that’s a lot of VR headsets;” “Oh my god, soldering!;” “MakerBots are cool;” “Everyone is really angry at the Wi-Fi.”
At the time, I was working for a marketing firm, writing articles about things like software-defined networking, enterprise mobility management and other fun stuff. About an hour into HackRU, I ran into a team working on a Myo/Arduino/Oculus-powered RC car and realized that I hated my life.
The car was neat, sure, but what really stuck with me was the passion of the team assembling it. It was palpable. After they’d described their project to me, I thought back to an interview I’d done earlier in the week about VM consolidation ratios. The corporate product manager reciting talking points, doing her best to feign interest; the soul-rending hold music that preceded her: there was no going back. So, I quit.
As the new director of storytelling for MLH, you’ll be hearing from me pretty frequently, and seeing me at hackathons. I’ll be the guy with the light-up shoes asking to see what you’re working on. I’m not a hacker, but like the rest of you, I’m here to learn. Thank you for welcoming me.
In the coming weeks and months, we’re planning a ton of exciting changes to MLH.io, so keep checking in, even during the off season! We’re overhauling the site to bring you more hacks, more stories, more video and more loons, because loons are royalty.
Stay tuned and happy hacking!