This weekend, I attended my first hackathon! It’s always been something I wanted to do.
Why haven’t I participated in a hackathon before? There are a few reasons:
- I wasn’t truly interested
- I’m scared of social crowds
- And of course, the good ol’ imposter syndrome
So why did I attend this one?
I found one that I truly believed in
The idea of going to a hackathon was really appealing. (I mean, it sounds cool to say that you spent the weekend attending a hackathon, and showing your brand new project afterward, right?) But honestly, I wasn’t really interested in the ones I saw. Either about the type of technology (I know nothing about web security, and I’d rather start with something I’m at least a little familiar with) or the subject (there was one about education, but that is not what I’m interested in anymore).
Pride Hacks was about helping organizations in the LGBTQ+ community, which I am part of. The group I volunteer for, the GRIS Montréal, has some tech-savvy members, which allows it to have a great web platform to coordinate our events. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case with other groups. Administrators aren’t always comfortable using social medias or other pieces of technology. The event was part of the official Fierté Montréal Pride week, so I knew it was something I wanted to be part of!
I signed up with a friend
Crowds and I have an issue! In the past, I missed several important events because I was terrified at the idea of being alone when there are a lot of people around. I don’t really mind being in a jam-packed mall, wandering in a crown isn’t a problem. But if I know I have to talk to people and that I know no one, I get very anxious. So going to a hackathon where I have to talk to people I don’t know in order to build a project is a big no-no for me!
Luckily, my friend Debbie was the one who told me about this event. « If you go, I go. » Works for me! We both signed up, so I knew I had someone to talk to. The morning kick-off was awesome: Laura, who was in charge of the ice breaker was pretty straight-forward. « So, I know you guys don’t know each other. So find a person. Ask them about ________. In fact, here are a few question you can ask them: ________, ________ and ________. We’ll do this three times. So in 5 minutes, you’ll know at least three other people. » How awesome is that? I didn’t end up working on the same projects as the people I met during that exercise, but it felt great to see that I wasn’t the only one to be shy!
I picked a project that I felt comfortable with
There were some pretty awesome projects on the list we were given, and I’m sure I could have learned a lot. Setting up a phone system, linking a CRM with an accountability system, make sure data is safe. These did look awesome, I could have learned a lot and might have pushed my limits. But you know what? I decided to go with something safe and that I knew I would like. A website needed to be revamped (it was still rocking its retro style, its 2001 retro style, not kidding). Debbie and I jumped up when they asked who wanted that project, and a few people joined us.
It didn’t end up being a very difficult project. We “simply” rebuilt the website from scratch using WordPress so it would be easy for the organization to update it. One of the directions we got was not to reinvent the wheel and to make sure that the organization would be able to keep on using what we would have helped them with on that day. In fact, one of the reasons why the organization I helped out never really made any major update to their website was because they didn’t know HTML. Our WordPress website sure was handy for that purpose!
What it brought me
I had always pictured my first hackathon to be a day where I would learn some awesome new language and technology, go home thinking I was a genius and become the CTO of the awesome new project we would have built. Reality check, I didn’t. I did once again what I’ve already done before: setup a WordPress site on a server, push that code to a repo, quickly drew a logo using only CSS, because it is easier for me to do it that way than to use GIMP/Photoshop.
But I felt comfortable doing that. I knew what I was doing, and it was great. I can also say that I never got any more gratification than I got that day. Helping a client is something that feels great, I’ve been in that situation. But having someone volunteering for a non-profit telling you “hey, that website you did, that other idea you gave us, it really makes a difference and it will help us tons”. That is the best thing someone could have told me.
I live by many quotes, but the following one is definitely one that I relate to when I think about tech. Technology-wise, I didn’t really got out from my comfort zone. But I went to the event, that is a big step for me, and I’m glad I took it. I got out of my comfort zone, and magic did happen.
(Anyone knows the original source of this image?)
Now, what’s next?
And of course, I’ll be there next year for Pride Hacks 2018, it was too much fun, and I’ll be bringing more friends!