As an entrepreneur and parent, I am choosy about what activities I allow my children to engage in, which usually requires some digging and deciphering. When making a decision, it helps me to remember my tried-and-true mental checklist: Does this activity or event meet the “Three C Rule?” That is, will it help my child become more competent, conscious and confident?
To my surprise, hackathons pass the test. A term many of us have overheard at the water cooler or from our own Gen Z-ers, hackathons are omnipresent in schools and communities around the world. But what is a hackathon?
Even though I come across hackathons in the startup industry, when I first heard the term, I admit I was apprehensive. Words and phrases like “unauthorized,” “stealing” and “change your password immediately” reverberated in my mind. However, hackathons are quickly becoming incubators for the future leaders and doers of the world. Hackathons are purposefully disruptive and solution-driven, so don’t switch your parental controls on just yet.
As a member of Dell’s Insider program, I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Swift, founder of Major League Hacking, the official student hackathon group. According to Swift, “Hackathons are about coming up with a solution by putting together a group of creatives, software experts and graphic designers in one room for the weekend; it is the blissful, harmonious marriage of coding and creativity.”
Partners of Major League Hacking, like Dell, are using hackathons as opportunities to mentor and recruit students. Hackathons are typically weekend-long events, but they can range anywhere from 24 to 36 hours long. They’re open to students varying in age from high school to college and beyond. Anywhere from 200 to 2,000 students gather under one roof to build, learn and share.
Still not convinced? Let’s dive deeper. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Hackathons solve problems. In the hackathon ecosystem, a problem is considered a “probortunity,” or a problem that gives way to an opportunity. I have always taught my children that a setback is just a setup for their next comeback (one of my all-time favorite Joel Osteen quotes). Hackathons instill that very same lesson. While there are different end goals surrounding a hackathon, such as building an app that helps you sing in the shower or headsets that filter through ads, the purpose is always about finding a solution to a real-world problem through collaboration.
2. Hackathons are open to everyone, not just coders or computer science students. Hackathons are a made up of a diverse and dynamic group of builders, creative, programmers and designers. If your child has an interest in technology, hackathons offer an opportunity to learn, grow and pick up valuable technical skills they will need for their future careers. Knowing how to program in the modern age is becoming a second-hand skill for Gen Z.
3. Hackathons have an interpersonal impact. While hackathons are solutions-based, they also serve as an opportunity for both extroverts and introverts to foster relationships and social and interpersonal skills while engaging in something they have a shared, genuine interest in. “People from all types of socio-economic backgrounds gather under one roof to learn how to be effective on a team,” says Swift.
4. Hackathons cover the “Three Cs.” The community prides itself on encouraging attendees to take initiative on the project at hand and challenge themselves to critically think of a solution. They leave feeling competent of their newly honed skills, conscious of others around them and confident in themselves. For young people still shaping their self-identity, there is no better feeling than knowing they contributed to something that will help others.
5. Hackathons are just getting started. As the hacker culture grows, the more vital it is for parents to become educated and help reshape the public ethos surrounding the hackathon. Organizations like Major League Hacking are creating a space for students and companies to cultivate skills, technical and social, that they will carry with them for their entire careers.
Many hackathons are free, so what are you waiting for? Get hacking! Visit Major League Hacking’s website to find a Hackathon near you, or how you can become a part of the Student Hackathon League.
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