Why VTHacks and MLH Events are Spectacular for the Community

TL;DR; Here’s why MLH Hackathons are awesome:

★ Increasing Diversity in the Programming Industry

#### ★ Organizational Experience for Juniors/Seniors #### ★ Showing Others What Hacking is All About #### ★ Enabling Up and Coming Hacker All Stars to Collaborate and Learn #### ★ Organizing and Volunteering for Exciting Events to Make Your Major Fun #### ★ Eating Amazing Food All Weekend For Free.. lulz

Other hackathon events are fun too, but this MLH event seemed different. It’s the only one I’ve attended, so maybe the VT Hacks organization had something to do with it too.

VT Hacks is an Amazing Event

VT Hacks Logo

I really had fun this weekend and met a lot of cool people. That’s kind of why I decided to volunteer – to network with people. I just thought I’d be volunteering moreso with people closer to my age and didn’t realize that the event was mostly run by undergrads.

This weekend even caused me to reconsider going to college. If I end up staying in the area, I’m definitely considering returning to Virginia Tech to pursue a degree in Math. Or maybe Biotechnology. Probably Math though, as that’s what I’m most interested in. Plus, there’s apparently no GPA requirement on the major at Virginia Tech and that’s nice because my GPA is pathetic, since I never really tried. Which is horrible, since that’s one of the major reasons I haven’t considered going back for a third time.

It should be obvious, but I really wish I had taken my education more seriously the first time around. I probably spent more time in Torgerson Hall this weekend than I ever did while I was at VT and that’s sad because that’s the Computer Science building. I never really hung out with anyone at school and I was always traveling for jamskating competitions, so I didn’t make the friends that would keep me on track. And I never really got the chance to understand what I was missing out on, so I selfishly threw it away.

I really hope people don’t follow in my footsteps. To say the least, I’ve made a ton of mistakes in the past decade, so it’s really amazing that I’ve been able to do what I have so far. If other people made some of the same mistakes, they might lose a promising future altogether. So stay in school, kids, because school is cool. And don’t do drugs. You’ll waste all your time, your most valuable resource. And you might end up irrevocably maiming your brain, your second most valuable resource as a programmer.

MLH => Showing Others What Hacking is All About

Major League h4x0rZ

Kudos to Swift, the MLH guys and VT Hacks for putting together a great event. I’m glad there are events like this being organized because it really helps others understand what hacking is all about. Hacking is often shrouded in mystery and misunderstood. And now there’s events with live streams so people can see what the action is like. These are the smartest kids in the country, creatively solving problems that half of them absurdly concocted just to show off their skills. I think events like this are going to make hardware and software exciting and I can’t wait to see where the guys at MLH take this.

Extramural Collaboration and Fostering Lasting Relationships

Another great aspect of this is how the events are encouraging competition between schools – and not only that, but magnet schools in the area were invited as well. This is great, not only because increased competition drives students to hack harder, but also because competitors are likely to form relationships with their teammates that last a lifetime. In the tech industry, acquiring knowledge is crucial, obviously. And sometimes tech trends are local. So if you only interact with people locally, you’re only going to be exposed to the ideas around you. So making friends with students across the country is a great way to form bonds that will expose you to new things. But, doing so might also prove useful later when you graduate and you’re looking for a new job, which brings me to my next point.

Employment and Internship Opportunities

This event was pretty much an unofficial job fair, where big name companies were looking for talent. You could tell they were looking to sign the big players. These hackathons are all great talent identification opportunities. I’d be willing to be that some companies would be willing to pay big bucks for rooms at some hackathons. I’m not sure what the sponsorship costs are, but they couldn’t be too cheap because our food was amazing!

Amazing Food All Weekend

There was amazing food. There was Asian, Indian, Mexican and even Greek, I think. The food was all high quality local food, AFAIK.

So many hackathons I’ve been to serve pizza. A lot of pizza. Sometimes to the point of pizza, all day, every day. Free food is nice, but pizza is very acidic, very greasy and encourages drinking of soft drinks due to its greasiness. And healthy pizza is expensive. The brain needs a healthy diet! I can’t emphasize this enough, but I’ll try:

“The brain really, really needs a healthy diet!”

There. I said it twice and even put it in a $#@!’ing quote box. What was great about this event is that we didn’t have pizza once. I had heard some of the organizers talk about almost running out of money because of the food! That’s great! Well, in a way. But, someone obviously cares about the hackers at this event! It’s super expensive to feed so many hackers at one event, for a free event.

Kudos to you all. Here’s a hug.

Super Hug

The only critique I can offer on the food – and really, critique on the event that I can think of – is that the drinks weren’t iced. Not really a huge deal though.

Increasing Diversity

What I saw this weekend is so promising: up to 30% of attending students were women. And it was great to see that an organization like AWC was there networking and is active on the VT campus. As someone that has worked in various segments of the technology industry for almost a decade now, I’ve noticed a serious lack of women engineers in the field. This is really bad for a lot of reasons.

Many jobs are becoming technology-focused or specifically including programming in some way, regardless of the field. So most important, if more opportunities are going to require programming, then if women have less coding skills – for whatever reason – this might lead them to be disadvantaged when it comes to finding a job. Many scientific and business positions are going to increasingly require working with more data. This is especially true as Big Data methodologies become more prevalent.

Grace Hopper

From a personal perspective – and I hope this isn’t taken the wrong way – I want to see more women in the field because I’m tired of only working with men. And I’m not talking about trying to hook up with my colleagues or people that I work with. I’m saying that being cooped up with a bunch of guys all day isn’t so great. Because of my single-minded focus on technology, the industry I have worked in for about a decade and not having enough interactions with women, I’ve developed this like social anxiety about interacting with them …

… Kind of a personal problem lol. But anyways, it seems really wierd to other non-programmers [muggles] that I interact with. But when there’s more women in the field, then if I attend a community event, then I could more naturally interact with women. And then, when I’m just out interacting with muggles, it’s not really that different.

So maybe it’s a reason bourne out of personal motivation, but it is one reason why I’d like to see more women in the field.

OK ….. so anyways, lol.

Ethnic Diversity

It was also great to see people from so many ethnic backgrounds working together. It looks like the software industry is shaping up to be one of the most diverse fields. In many ways, it has always had that component, but it was especially noticeable at this event. And that’s fantastic because ethnic and cultural diversity encourages the sharing of ideas and, in many ways, I personally see American culture as traditionally being myopic and a bit close-minded. Sometimes.

America’s a place where many cultures co-exist: we’re the Melting Pot. But it’d be great if this was moreso reflected in the ethnicity statistics you see in American business leadership. And if you compare software companies with other industries, i think you’ll see we’re leading the way. The situation is definitely improving though and has been for many decades.

VT Hacks Results

Somehow I managed to avoid every picture on the VT Hacks Facebook Page. Because I’m a $#@!’ing ninja!

Volunteering for the Community

One of the Virginia Tech policies I heard about this weekend was the Professionalism course required in the Computer Science major. Professionalism is a class where you basically get three credits for volunteering around 20 hours during the semester. Of course, now that I look it up, this course has been in CS at VT since at least the 90’s, although I think it’s now required for the CS major.

This is great because if you look around at the software communities in San Francisco, Denver and other major startup hubs, you’ll see thriving technology communities full of meetups, mentors, networking, opportunities and more. And someone has to put in the work to get this together. If those people who volunteer their time to do this weren’t there, it would fall apart. And these events are the best opportunities for younger coders to listen to experienced coders talk about new technologies.

VT Hacks Volunteers

If you’re dedicated enough to attend this meetups, good for you. That’s great: you’re probably learning a ton. If you’re dedicated enough to volunteer your free time to organize these events, that’s amazing. The industry needs more people like you because it’s one huge aspect of what makes software fun. Make sure you put that shit on your resume.

When I was living in Denver, there were tonnes of opportunities like this. So many, that after I was unemployed for a few months, I started attending meetups (1) for the networking opportunities and (2) for the free food … to save money lulz. In fact, I did this so often, I joked that **“I was on the meetup diet – just pizza and beer.” That was one of my openers for meeting new people, though I didn’t think of it like that at the time. I thought it was pretty funny though, lol.

“I’m on the meetup diet – just pizza and beer.” - David Conner, Man About Town

So that was in Denver, but now that I’m living in Roanoke, not so much – Sorry, Roanoke. There’s nothing like that here. There’s one meetup group that I know of, I think? I tried to start my own. Two of them, actually: Star RB for Ruby and NG Star for AngularJS. Angular was a little too specific at that time – knowedge of how $#@!’ing amazing Angular is hadn’t quite trickled down the Roanoke river. I ran a few meetups and spent a ton of time trying to network. I even spent $400 on Facebook Ads. Which was a complete and utter waste of money, by the way – I was tracking conversions because Google Analytics and FB integrate with Meetup. I got like 15 clicks and ZERO conversions…. However, it was still tax-deductible =) =$

Star RB logo

I spent some time on the branding for the meetups and created some pretty awesome, very simplistic and symbolic logos. In case you didn’t know, the star is a symbol of Roanoke. We’re the Star City. I did get 7 people to attend one meetup, but I was planning on moving to Raleigh at the time. I tried to hand off the meetup organization to someone, but that’s kind of a big ask and I fumbled with it. So basically, everything I did fell apart =/

NG Star logo

My point is: with software, community is paramount.

Otherwise, it can be very difficult to grow as a developer. So it’s amazing when there are great opportunities and events like this in your area. It’s kinda why I wriggled my way into this event. Mostly because I haven’t talked to anyone, in person, that knows what the $!#@ Ruby on Rails is for three months. To be fair, I haven’t tried very hard .. But what the $#@! Roanoke? I can hear my career grasping for breath here.

And that’s not to say that Roanoke doesn’t have job opportunities for developers. It does – if you’re a .NET developer. And if you’re not a .NET developer or don’t want to be, you’re pretty much $#@!’ed. This is because any promising new technology takes at least 3 years to reach areas the size of Roanoke, if they ever do.

Here’s to hoping for more great events in the area.