Why I can’t join a hackathon!

Purple Hoverboard with ribbonPurple Hoverboard with ribbon

Blog prevously appeared on LinkedIn.

I started writing this post about the importance of diversity in teams, specifically hackathon teams. And as I continued writing about the benefits, I started wondering - why aren’t teams more diverse? What stops people taking part in hackathons? What are the blockers…and are they mental, technical or something else completely?

Now I know it’s hardly empirical! - but to get a diverse opinion, I sorted my inbox by size, picked a random date and emailed whoever was on screen to ask them to answer this question, quickly and honestly:

Why wouldn’t you / couldn’t you / shouldn’t you join a hackathon team?

Thanks to everyone that replied because it gave me a new perspective – some of the responses reinforced what I knew, but a few were unexpected. So, let’s debunk them right now!

1. “Because I don’t know how to code / I’m not a technical person”

The number one response, AKA the ‘nodding heads’ answer! Think ‘hackathon’ and you think ‘code’ -working around problems, often technical, locked away for 48 hours with nothing but pizza, energy drinks and, occasionally, sleeping bags.

But hackathons have changed. The problems they aim to solve have widened, going from technical to industrial, societal…even global. The format of presentations has changed; taking lines of code and elevating it to business cases, financial projections, video demos, design & visuals, research…and compelling storytelling. And the scope of hackathons has also changed, opening up to accept ideas and concepts, not just apps. So, whether you’re creative, logical, research-driven or just enthusiastic, there is a real and tangible need for your skills.

2.  “I don’t have the time”

Another nodding heads answer, particularly from non-developer / product teams. We all get bogged down with work, there’s always so much to do and so little time that we don’t prioritize our own success or development. And as hackathon = hack + marathon, it’s no surprise that people feel they can’t commit. But, there’s a reason that ‘agile’ and ‘sprints’ are becoming everyday language – because they improve productivity and output. So, by investing a bit of your time with developer colleagues in a hackathon, you just might find that ultimately it helps you save time and work more productively in the long run.

3.  “It’s a bit scary and I might look a bit stupid against all those brain boxes!”

An honest answer and one that many of us can relate to. What immediately sprang to mind when I read this was Scott Page’s concept of “super-additivity” (The Difference), which is standing the test of time. Super-additivity is essentially the exponential power of improvement through diversity – the more diverse the group, the more one improvement can be improved upon again and again by everyone else. So never again think you’re not bringing something to the table, you contribute to the power of improvement.

4.  “I’m a leader, not a doer”

I didn’t see this answer coming! Of course, leaders contributed to the success of an organization – culturally and commercially. Diversity is a core tenet of success, and diversity relates to many factors, including experience and the way you approach information processing and perspective (cognitive diversity). You have the chance to bring your experience and use it to truly engage with people, at a time like now when remote working might be making people feel disconnected, anxious or unheard. So, surprise and inspire them by joining a team – be the role model that people need right now. (Plus of course there are benefits – personal development, talent spotting, and dare I say even fun?!) Commit to something that benefits you and motivates and inspires a group of people you may not have had the chance to work with before.

5.  “I’m a ‘business’ not an ‘innovation’ person / it’s not my role”

Of course, there are people that think that, because of their role, hackathons aren’t something that they ‘do’. If you’re writing legal contracts or responsible for financial reports, there is less scope for innovation within the regulatory confines of your job, I admit! But remember, “not everyone has a creative job, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to come up with a genius idea that will truly add value to your company” (The Next Web). There’s always room to be curious, regardless of your role, and curiosity creates an incredible roadmap for us in whatever job we have, improving our ability to retain information, recognize and stop stereotypes, be happy and learn and grow.

6. “I’m too old for that kind of thing”

If you look at Silicon Valley, it’s easy to associate success and disruption with youth. In fact, and this is sad, people tend to feel past their best sooner in technology; before they even hit 30. But look back to the previous answers and you’ll see that cognitive diversity, curiosity and experience all bring huge value to a group. There’s no age limit on learning, and no cap on your potential to positively influence others.

Last December I had the pleasure to be in India as we kicked off our 2019 Hack - seems a lifetime ago!

I hope that this has shown that hackathons, as well as having the potential to disrupt the world through innovation, also have the potential to positively impact everyone that takes part. Join us as we Hack to the Future and collaborate to try and solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Find out more here – registrations are open