At 42 yr old, I joined a travel tech hackathon for the first time 2 days ago, Sabre Destination Hackathon here in Singapore. Installing Eclipse and reading API docs brought back lot of memories when I started my career 15 years ago as a Java developer. At the end, I won small prize by developing Sabre Red App Widget. The new widget is to show relevant credit card offers when shopping for flights and hotels. As a first time Red App developer, it is really a surprise that proof of concept demo can win support from the audience and judges.
I registered hoping to find developers to create a VOIP app using Twilio APIs connecting with Powerdata2go portable wifi router, with global coverages. However, listen to Red App presentations, I found the Red Workspace is a uniquely positioned platform. Then with coaching from two awesome Sabre development leads (Alexandre Meneghello and Julian Macagno) and hours reading the SDK doc, I managed to create my first Red App Widget. The process on bouncing ideas and implement it with right away, focused, debugging and finally see it working within 24 hours is the greatest reward. Obviously, the endorsement from judges was a bonus.
Hackathon is like a new intellectual sport, where likeminded people (regardless of age) join and compete on ideas and coding skills. Below are few things I noted in these 2 days.
1. Be there early and talk to people.
The people you meet at hackathon participate for many reasons. You will likely bump into students, freelancers and even industry people trying to learn coding. With a room so diverse, hackathon becomes an excellent opportunity to meet new people, besides coders. Also talk to the organizer team, know their business, challenges, competition and product roadmap. Most hackathon have a commercial goal, be it launching new product/platform or building ecosystem or just brand awareness. And the organizer is more than happy to share their views since they want you to help them find new ideas and new projects. Their sales, marketing, technical and even finance may be there. There is no better place to learn.
2. Join a chat room
Nowadays, there is a chat room for every development project, as emails are no good for team real time communications. Expedia development manager Poi created a HipChat room for people to ask questions on Expedia APIs. I joined and discovered lots of interesting questions. Reading their questions and comments helped me to understand different challenges facing mobile apps and web apps. The exchange of ideas and problem solving skills
After this event, I believe chat room interactions are invaluable asset for recruiters. I would suggest recruiter to join each chat room and listen to their conversations. A friend also joined trying to recruit developers, with a passion in travel tech. I saw her talking to participants, distributing business cards and encouraging developers to know more about her new iOS App. This way she cast her net wide and try to talk to as much developers as possible. Another way is to be more focus and do researches in chat rooms. Find out which user are asking relevant questions, contributing answer and with good manners. These are the right people to work with, who are focusing on their project and helping others to achieve their goals. Then send him/her an email for a coffee. During the hackathon, a developer would like to spend time on their codes, there are tons of improvement he/she can make. There is no time for a recruiter.
3. A good chef cooks with what is given to them
Unless you have a workable product ready and plan to showcase it, I suggest keeping your mind open and explore possibilities. Within 24 hours, there is not enough time to build a full feature app and your brilliant idea may be totally trashed by poor executions. Let people share their experiences, identify the real problem statement together and co-create a solution. It is far more collaborative and also build friendships. After all a hackathon is like a sport, where people participate to make friends and enjoy the process.
Writing this piece helped me to recognize that hackathon is very much like a sport, when people and teams compete and achieve a certain goal within a defined time. Just like any sport there are amateurs, professionals and observers. The younger and more energetics one will definitely enjoy the party and football table. But even you are not a coder or consider yourself too old, it is still an excellent opportunity to collaborate with people with different skills, culture and age.