The Next Event to Attend: A Hackathon

The Next Event to Attend: A Hackathon

By: Sabrina Rannala

As a communications student, I am always looking for opportunities to network, learn new skills, and explore the different career paths within communications. Normally this means attending networking nights, expert panels, and other similar events – until recently. For the first time, I decided to try attending a hackathon after seeing an advertisement on Twitter. Not quite sure of what to expect I signed up, but after going I am very glad I did.

So, what is a hackathon? It sounds intimidating, but the main idea is to ‘hack’ a particular issue. The hackathon that I attended examined homelessness in Ottawa and attempted to offer some solutions to this complex issue.  Software developers, graphic designers, communications specialists and general enthusiasts came together over the course of several days to work on projects that target specific issues, typically by creating software and examining data. There is something for everyone, and everyone can contribute something.

Here are some things that I learned from my first hackathon:

  1. You get the opportunity to meet passionate people.

Everyone that attended was there because they wanted to be, so you end up working with a group of driven and passionate people. Whether they are interested in the social issue, coding, or communications, their energy is contagious.You get the opportunity to network in a casual, friendly environment.

Hackathons can last anywhere from a few days to a week, so you get to know the rest of your team fairly well. In that time, you get to show off your skills, knowledge, and personality. I felt less pressure than I would at a typical networking night because I got to know my peers on both a business and personal level, and we were all working on something we were passionate about. Building relationships in that setting came naturally.

2. Hackathons are a great place for entrepreneurs.

While some hackathons are competitive, this particular event was not. Everyone was very supportive of one another and many groups ended up collaborating. At the end of the weekend everyone presented their ideas to a panel of judges who made suggestions to each team. Some of the teams were so proud of what they had created that they planned to continue working on their project so it could eventually become an app or business.

3. You are challenged to use datasets in an interesting way.

The groups are provided with datasets related to the specific issue at hand and are challenged to produce their own data. At the end of the weekend, each group had used that data in a different way to produce a unique project.

4. You get to learn new skills.

I went into the weekend with the notion that I would only be able to discuss communication strategies with my team, but by the end of the weekend everyone was data mining and picking up on some coding.

Overall, my first experience at a hackathon was a great one. It was a fun and rewarding experience and I left feeling as if I had gained knowledge and built connections with a great group of people. If you have the opportunity to attend a hackathon, I strongly suggest you do!

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