With the rise of the global student hacker movement, King’s has thrived like no other and their Spring 2015 EU Season victory is a testament to this. However, just a few semesters ago, students from King’s College London were frustrated about the lack of hacker culture at their school. They wanted to learn new technologies, build amazing hacks they were passionate about and share them with their friends and the world.
The Early Days of King’s Hacker Culture
Fares Alaboud was about to enter his first year at King’s when he first attended one of the few intercollegiate student hackathons in the UK, Manchester’s StudentHack. He had such a great experience that he wrote about it and made it his mission to bring the same hacker culture back to King’s. Later that year, Major League Hacking launched its first UK season.
A few other students from King’s (Ammaar, Niklas, Graham & Hani) were already working on building hacker culture within King’s. They wanted to create an environment that would allow hackers and builders to thrive, and the formation of KCL Tech was their first step towards making that happen. Fares quickly joined their team and advised them to consider organizing a hackathon of their own. Later that year, with a tiny venue and almost no money, they threw the first HackKings. It drew more than 100 hackers from all around the UK and was funded almost entirely by in-kind sponsors. The culture of KCL Tech began to thrive, fueled by the momentum from their first home-court hackathon.
Fares described their challenges in building the society on campus: “Building a team of super passionate people is not that easy and can be very hit/miss.” We hear this a lot from organizers. Ammaar found it particularly difficult, “A lot of time was then spent looking up procedures and processes to make sure we could get the society approved. We believed that we were onto building a great society, but really, threw the idea at people to see how they reacted.” The positive reactions helped motivate them and led to the rapid expansion of amazing hackers and builders coming out of King’s today.
Sustaining the Growth of KCL Tech
Ammaar, Niklas, Fares and other KCL Tech committee members weren’t the only students who wanted to build a vibrant hacker community on campus. In just a few years, the student hacker community has grown from a handful of students to more than 50,000 attending MLH Member Events each year. Students want to learn, build & share their amazing projects with the world. They dedicate their weekends to becoming part of this global movement of growth and learning and every hacker club on campus reflects this.
KCL Tech began to organize workshops and talks and collaborated with local tech companies and organizations to inspire students at King’s to join the hacker movement. They reduced the barrier to entry to programming for those who were interested, and it was an approach that worked incredibly well. KCL Tech now has over 1,600 students signed up for their newsletter and they won the Spring 2015 EU season by a large margin.
The hacker culture at King’s continues to thrive more than ever before because of their core values. Ammaar, who graduated this past summer from King’s and now works in the Bay Area, said that some of the challenges of building a solid legacy were:
- Having transparency amongst amongst the team. No secrets. Everyone should know everything.
- Free and fair elections in the team.
- Autonomy to do whatever you wanted as long as it was for the betterment of the society.
- Keeping the core mission in mind of making the tech scene at KCL incredibly exciting for everyone.
- The team should feel like a family. It should be very close knit.
King’s Hacker Culture Today
Today, KCL Tech is a multi award winning society with hugely in-demand hackathons (three to date), one of which is co-organized with UCLU Tech. HackLondon, organized by KCL and UCL, and the upcoming HackKings are both MLH Member Events. It’s been a privilege to be able to support King’s students in organizing stellar hackathons that have helped shape the European hacker community. We frequently use them as a case study for other students who’d like to bring the student hacker movement to their school.
Fares, who I spoke about earlier, has become the President for KCL Tech for the 2015/16 year and still dedicates his time towards traveling to hackathons while managing the society. It’s one of the core values of King’s hacker culture that is highly respected – whilst there may be a huge society that requires immense organizational effort – all of their core team still go out to hackathons to enjoy them as hackers & builders, not just leaders and managers.
Joshua, another hacker from King’s who was inspired by the work of KCL Tech so much so that he’s now the Vice President for the current year, said “KCL Tech has done wonders for me – it was the reason I attended my first hackathon, and ever since I was introduced to the hackathon community, my life has changed. It’s immensely rewarding to bring that same thing to people every day of my life, and it’s something I hope I never stop doing.”
The same Joshua and another King’s student, Mark, attended Major League Hacking’s Spring season finale Hack the Planet in Mountain View, California in August to hack with hundreds of other prolific hackers. They ended up building DotToDot, a tool that allows you to very easily learn API’s using challenges akin to that of HackerRank, and ended up in third place representing not only King’s but the European student hacker community as a whole. EU hackers have come so far because of the belief in building things we care about.
Mark and Josh’s third place hack at Hack the Planet, DotToDot.
Last month, the Spring 2015 European Season Awards Ceremony took place at King’s College London’s Strand Campus with over 50 hackers in attendance and one of their most respected lecturers. It’s definitely been the most amazing ceremony we’ve been to yet and all of the attendees agreed. For the first time, we organized a mini-event at the awards ceremony and non-King’s students participated with just as much spirit, if not more. It’s a testament to the fact that the awards ceremony celebrated not just King’s win, but King’s involvement and contribution towards the global student hacker movement.
King’s has now become one of the most desirable universities in Europe for builders and hackers because of students who created a society dedicated to supporting hacker culture. The students at this school took the initiative to welcome fellow students from all disciplines, getting them to attend meetups and Local Hack Days as well as inter-collegiate hackathons across the continent. It’s why so many King’s students are seen at hackathons and it’s one of the finer lessons that can be shared with students from other schools who want to build their own hacker communities.
Looking back, one of the influences of King’s hacker culture today was from a student attending a hackathon with little to no idea of what it entailed. It’s one of the reasons that Major League Hacking works with a plethora of student organizers and why we want to make hacker culture as accessible to all as possible – it’s the single biggest reason as to why our community is so great.
As always, we look forward to the next season in both Europe and North America and we’d love to see you at a hackathon. More information on the events running this upcoming season can be found at http://mlh.io/eu.