November 20, 2015
As a parent, I am choosy about what activities I allow my children to engage in, which usually requires some digging and deciphering. When making a decision, it helps for me to remember my tried and true mental checklist – does this activity or event meet the Three C Rule? Will it help my child become more competent, conscious and confident?
To my surprise, hackathons pass the test. A term many of us have overheard at the water cooler or from our own Gen Z-ers, hackathons are omnipresent in schools and communities around the world. But, really, what is a hackathon? When I first heard the term, I admit, I was a little apprehensive. My overprotective mom-brain automatically seized when I saw the word hack. Words like “unauthorized,” “stealing,” or “change your password immediately!” reverberated in my mind. The action of ‘hacking’ by nature sounds dangerous, but in reality, hackathons are quickly becoming incubators for the future leaders and do-ers of the world. Hackathons are purposefully disruptive and solution-driven –so don’t go switching on your parental controls just yet.
Hackathons are typically weekend long events, but they can range anywhere from 24 hours long to 36 hours long. Not be mistaken as an exclusive clubhouse, hackathons are open to students varying from high school to college and beyond. During a hackathon, anywhere from 200 to 2,000 students gather under one roof to build, learn and share.
As a member of Dell’s Insider program, I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Swift, founder of Major League Hacking, the official student hackathon group. According to Swift:
“Hackathons are about coming up with a solution by putting together a group of creatives, software experts, and graphic designers in one room for the weekend – it is the blissful, harmonious marriage of coding and creativity.”
Partners of Major League Hacking, like Dell, are using hackathons as opportunities to mentor and recruit students.
Still not convinced: Let’s dive deeper.
Hackathons Solve Problems
In the hackathon ecosystem, a problem is considered a probortunity, or a problem that gives way to an opportunity. I have always taught my children that a setback is just a setup for their next comeback (one of my all time favorite Joel Osteen quotes). Hackathons instill that very same lesson. While there are different end-goals surrounding a hackathon, such as building an app that helps you sing in the shower or headsets that filter through ads, the purpose is always about finding a solution to a real-world problem through collaboration.
All for One, and One for All
Hackathons are open to everyone, not just coders or computer science students. Hackathons are a made up of a diverse and dynamic group of builders, creative, programmers and designers. If your child has an interest in technology, Hackathons offer an opportunity to learn, grow, and pick up valuable technical skills they will need for their future careers. Knowing how to program in the modern age is becoming a second-hand skill for Gen Z.
While hackathons are solutions-based, they also serve as an opportunity for both extroverts and introverts to foster relationships and social and interpersonal skills while engaging in something they have a shared, genuine interest in. “People from all types of socio-economic backgrounds gather under one roof to learn how to be effective on a team,” says Swift.
It Covers the Three C’s
It’s a community-focused meeting of the minds that prides itself on encouraging attendees to take initiative on the project and challenge themselves to critically think of a solution. They leave feeling competent of their newly honed skills, conscious of others around them and confident in themselves. For young people still shaping their self-identity, there is no better feeling than knowing they contributed to something that will help others.
It’s Just Getting Started
As the hacker culture grows, the more vital it is for parents to become educated and help reshape the public ethos surrounding the hackathon. Organizations like Major League Hacking are creating a space for students and companies to cultivate skills, technical and social, that they will carry with them for their entire careers.
Hackathons are free, so what are you waiting for? Get hacking! Visit Major League Hacking to find a Hackathon near you, or how you can become a part of the Student Hackathon League.
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