Readyforce partnered with Claremont Colleges’s 5C Hackathon this Fall and we were so impressed with the event, we asked Kimberly Merrill, one of the lead organizers, to tell the story of how the tradition came to be.
Signing up for a hackathon is scary. Coding for hours straight, being on the hook for a brilliant new idea, wondering if the whole thing was doomed from the start when everything keeps crashing and you don’t know what to do anymore. That’s how I felt. And when Jesse and Brennen suggested we start a hackathon at Pomona, I looked around at the dozen or so students in our CS department and wondered just how crazy they were.
But they did it anyway, which by default, meant I got pulled into it, too.
With our first go-around, the 5C Hackathon brought in 30 students. The next semester, 75. Then 150. Then 335. The trick was getting outside of the CS majors, the career-programmers, and the computer hobbyists and finding those students who always dreamed of building a web app, or a game, or a website, but never thought they actually could.
At the time the 5C Hackathon was first conceived, I had been coding a grand total of 6 months. I was in the midst of trying my hand at web development for the first time, and though the idea was thrilling, the reality of building something from nothing seemed, as I said, scary.
That same thought was what was keeping students from signing up for the hackathon. There were pockets of hackers here and there, but in a consortium of liberal arts schools, there was no real pool of developers on which to draw. With the 5C Hackathon, then, came the concept of Hack Week – a 4-night crash course in web development – and with it, the dual challenge of teaching 10 things in 8 hours and not discouraging anyone along the way. And while we’re still fine-tuning the curriculum, Hack Week has become our primary pipeline into the 5C Hackathon.
This fall, we rolled out our fourth iteration of Hack Week and we were overwhelmingly unprepared for the response. By the end of the first night, we had 140 students in an auditorium coding together, half of whom, when asked if they had ever written a line of code before, did not raise their hands.
When we founded Hack Week, we always considered our mission as growing excitement around building things outside of the classroom – and creating a space where that experience was accessible to anyone. Hack Week is not meant to be a tech talk or a lecture or a strict lesson plan. It’s meant to be a community around building things, so we bring in cookies, we get to know everyone by name, we fill all our image tags with PlaceKitten photos, and we sneak in variables named “poop” and “pee,” because building things should be fun. And that’s the passion we want to share.
The twist ending is I don’t even run Hack Week anymore. Alongside my friend Andy, two students who, last spring, were on the other side of the Hack Week classroom do.
Checkout 5C Hackathon at www.5chackathon.com