Cookhouse Lab is gearing up to host its third annual hackathon. To prepare for it, we connected with Diana Chang, previously a Logistics Team Lead with Hack the North, to find out why hackathons provide such a unique forum for collaboration for hackers (hackathon participants). Check out our interview with Diana below and don’t forget to sign up for our third annual hackathon.
Q: Can you start us off with a brief overview of how a hackathon works?
Diana: A hackathon is an opportunity for people to collaborate and co-create on an industry-specific challenge or even everyday problems. It is a huge learning experience that consists of a group of open-minded attendees who are ready to learn and teach, emerging technologies, and the opportunity to discover topical challenges.
In its simplest form, hackathons are spaces where like-minded people ideate and prototype together. While new technologies tend to be the hook for hackathons, it is the dedicated space for idea development across all industries that make hackathons so unique and nearly irreplicable.
Q: Who can get involved? Are they limited to people with coding or technical backgrounds?
D: Let’s make something clear, hackathons are not just for programmers! While most hackers are there to write code, designers are often the second largest group attending. They compliment coders’ work with strong UI/UX skills and ensure an effective and client-friendly flow to the final proposal.
Industry experts are also crucial for teams participating in hackathons. They act as project managers and provide industry knowledge not necessarily known by coders that put them a step above the competition. Hackathons also diversify with regards to which audience they cater to. Some are for developers in early stages while others focus on design thinking processes; with workshops integrated within the event to better prepare attendees.
Q: What are some benefits of attending?
D: Newly interested hackers will find value in the collaborative learning environment, open-minded participants who are willing to help, and the opportunity to learn how to transform industry concepts into real-world applications. Hackathons are also all about the people! By attending, you have the chance to meet like-minded people, connect across different industries, and co-create alongside people with different cultural/industry perspectives. All hackers come away with strong connections.
Q: Any advice for people who don’t think they have the necessary ‘skills’ to participate in a hackathon?
D: Hackathons generate an incredibly welcoming environment, for those who do – and don’t – have prior experience participating in them. There will always be facilitators there to ensure that everyone from beginners to veterans have the most positive experience possible.
You will be able to learn and contribute no matter what your level of knowledge of the topic is. As I mentioned before, everyone brings value from their personal experience.
Q: How do they inspire innovations within an industry?
D: Whether it be a product, service, or process, hackathons drive industry innovation by addressing projects that are more challenging, out-of-the-box, and would otherwise take a large dedication of time and resources to address.
Hackathons are purposely constrained on time so that hackers can solely focus on diagnosing, addressing, and ultimately solve the problem. They also typically have low constraints on creativity, and foster freedom of thought which enables participants to deliver truly innovative ideas to solve industry issues.
Q: With our own hackathon starting soon in Toronto, any crucial tips and tricks for those looking to be prepared?
D: Here are three tips I consider to be universal when preparing for a hackathon.
- Before the day(s) of the hackathon, make sure you are prepared with the right tools to succeed. This can range from the right technology (e.g. laptop) to simply going online to research the topic addressed at the hackathon.
- Go into the hackathon with an open mind. While this can be commonly overused, there is truly no better place to learn from specialists within their own industry since you will be working together. Not to mention that your peers will be willing to learn from you; that is the beauty of hackathons.
- On the topic of peer hackers, connect with fellow industry specialists. In a semi-casual setting such as a hackathon, it is almost a given that you will meet truly passionate professionals from every field. Soak as much information in as possible and take the opportunity to build relationships. This will undoubtedly be fruitful for future collaborations and potentially in seeking expertise when addressing an industry challenge.
A big thank you to Diana for sharing her expertise from her experience in the world of hackathons. It’s clear they present a unique opportunity for professionals of varying backgrounds and experience to come together to develop out-of-the-box solutions for challenging industry problems.