This weekend I attended Mission Hack 2018 in Toronto, a hackathon sponsored by Randstad, Hackworks, Addictive Mobility and Intact. Having never attended a hackathon, nor knowing much in the way of coding, you know, besides the basic HTML and CSS you needed to know in the olden days of the Internet, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I came away pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed the event, and with some new insights about the passion and creativity found in the developer community in Toronto. Below are some of my key takeaways.
Before you read about what I thought, check out this video of the event, and see some clips of Mission Hack 2018 in Toronto for yourself! If it looks like fun (it was!) remember, there's still time to sign up for Mission Hack in Vancouver or Montreal!
developers are really creative.
I was blown away by just how creative and outside the box some of the hacks were.
Every team’s solution was completely different than their competitors’ and approached the problem from a different perspective. For some background, the challenge was to create a technological tool to help establish a ‘new earth’ colony on a distant planet. The tool could be anything that would enhance human ambition, promote a healthy community, or build a new economy or infrastructure (learn more about the challenge). The tools presented ranged from an asteroid defense system, to a tool to manage human socialization and moods, to a tool to optimize growing crops, to the winning design, a social monitoring system that allowed or denied colonists access to various buildings and services based on their ‘social’ score, determined by a peer-driven review system. If that sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen the Black Mirror episode starring Bryce Dallas Howard, “Nosedive.” If you haven’t it’s definitely worth a watch. In any case, it was very cool to see the tech brought to life.
Now I don't know about you, but when I think of coders, creativity isn't exactly the first personality trait to come to mind. Really smart, yes. Methodical? For sure. Great with numbers? Definitely. But creativity? Not so much. To be perfectly honest, I was expecting some very technical tools that were high on tech, but less thoughtful from a social perspective. And that just wasn't the case. The tools presented were really thoughtful and each solved the challenge in a creative way. Lesson learned. To be a great developer, creativity and problem solving are definitely key parts of the package.
there’s more to development than coding.
When many of us think of a developer, we probably picture a stereotypical anti-social coder in a dark room, hunched over a keyboard, endlessly chipping away at lines of code (green text on an otherwise black computer screen, of course!) but that wasn’t what I saw at Mission Hack. Attending a hackathon and seeing developers work first-hand definitely broke down some of the misguided stereotypes about coders that are pushed in movies and the media.
The developers who attended were a diverse bunch, each with their own story to tell. For one thing, most of the developers were really enthusiastic and happy to talk and network. That old trope that devs aren't social is just that... an old trope. It takes guts to get up on a stage and talk about your tech, after all! And most were a lot more than just excellent coders with a zeroed-in focus on writing code. They were problem solvers and designers and UX specialists and project managers, all rolled up into one. When you’re given a time crunch to churn out a functional piece of tech in less than 48 hours, you’re going to have to wear more than one hat, and these developers did just that.
While I’m sure there was a lot of coding involved in every solution that made it to the table, the solutions presented were really nuanced from other perspectives, as well. I was impressed with how fully fleshed out some of the final hacks were. Many of the solutions had carefully considered designs and impressive user-interfaces that wouldn’t have been too out of place on a fully finished app on the app store. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say some of the UIs were better than ones I’ve seen on some budget apps. Which is especially impressive when you consider the time constraints.
female developers exist, and they’re awesome.
Given all the discussion about representation for women coders and how difficult it is for female developers to break into the tech industry, I was expecting a pretty low turnout of women coders. (My previous experiences at tech and dev focused events have fallen into this category.) So, I was pleasantly surprised by just how many women turned out to participate in the Mission Hack hackathon. Perhaps it helped that the event was largely driven by the female-led team at Hackworks, which organized the event alongside Randstad. Even the final judging panel was split right down the middle, with two women and two men casting the votes for the final winners, including Randstad Technologies president, Carolyn Levy.
While there were definitely more men than women at Mission Hack, at least 2 of the 12 teams that made it to the final presentation expo were exclusively women, while many other teams had at least one female on the team. Even more impressive, three of the five teams that made it to the finals (and two of the three winning teams) had females on the team, with a team made up of solely women taking home second place. Their solution had one of the most impressive user interfaces and design. It was also one of the few tools to take into consideration the social elements of building a colony in space, whereas many of the other tools focused on solving logistical problems like farming and defence. It was interesting to see a how a female perspective led to a unique solution. It was also clear that when women are given a chance to show what they can do, they do more than just show up, they kick ass!
developers are really dedicated to their craft.
Developers really do love what they do, and the hackathon made that crystal clear. We already knew that 70% of developers code side projects outside of work (according to Stack Overflow's annual developer survey), but the hackathon put into perspective how much devs love their work and what they do. Coding isn't just a skill they learned to make a living, it's something they live and breathe in their free time, too. Most of the developers in attendance were reaching double digits for the number of hackathons they'd attended, and were eagerly awaiting the next one.
Try to think of another industry where people are willing to give up their entire weekend to do much of the same stuff they do at work every day. I mean, sure, the prizes are pretty cool and a nice bonus, but it was clear that most of the teams weren’t there for the money, or even all the freebies (hoodies, t-shirts, pens, USB chargers and enough snacks to feed an army abounded!) They were there for the fun of solving a problem and the challenge of coding it and making it all come together over the course of a single weekend. They didn’t see the hackathon as more of the same day-to-day work, it was a chance to sharpen their skills and do something they love in an unusual and creative setting.
congratulations to all the winners of the toronto event!
First place, Three Comma Club's social credit system ColonyNet.
Second place, Team Visionaries' human socialization and mood management app, The Emotion App.
Third place, Ritzy Team's crop analysis management tool, Crop Insurance Buddy (CIB).
To learn more about Mission Hack 2018, check out the website.