My first hackathon was Random Hacks of Kindness in December 2011 at Drexel University. There, my team developed a prototype for the Cost of Freedom App to help users navigate their state’s voter ID application process. The app was reengineered by a hacker who works for Google at the Voting Information Project (VIP) Hackathon.
To date, I have participated in eight hackathons.
A lot of awesome prototypes are developed at hackathons. But to have an impact, the project must be sustained beyond the weekend. Like romance, a prototype without finance doesn’t stand a chance. So the team should include an evangelist who is passionate about the project. Someone who is willing to spend the time and energy it will take to get resources to build out the app. I was chief evangelist for the Cost of Freedom Project and Yo! Philly Votes.
If you build it, they will come. Right? Maybe. You have to market to your target audience. I partnered with national and local nonprofits to engage their members. I also used social networks and mainstream media to raise awareness of the civic apps.
A year later, I’m going back to where it all began -- Random Hacks of Kindness, which will be held at Drexel’s new ExCITe Center. I’m, well, excited to give an update on Yo! Philly Votes and perhaps pitch a project.
I’m also excited about how the hackathon platform and collaborative mindset can bridge the gap in teacher training and spark interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). While a lot of serious coding takes place during hackathons, it’s not all work. They’re actually fun. Folks play games and banter back and forth.
Hackathons or hackerspaces can help underrepresented minorities, particularly young black males, imagine a better future. They would be introduced to professionals who can connect STEM to their day-to-day realities and interests. Given the shifting demographics, it is an economic imperative that we inculcate interest in STEM subjects among black and Latino students.