This whole Hackathon thing started almost exactly a year ago when one of our friends said “IIT students do nothing but sit in their rooms playing video games to procrastinate on doing homework. And then they do homework. They chose majors in engineering and computer science because they have some interest and they’re wasting it.” We completely agreed but had no intention of doing anything about it. He then asked, “Wanna throw a Hackathon?”.
For those of you that don’t know, a Hackathon is traditionally a 24 hour computer programming competition centered around a problem generated by the organizing group, i.e. apps created from government’s big data. While that’s a cool concept, we wanted to create something that was more of a playground that attracted college students to learn by getting their hands dirty, that encouraged them to collaborate to solve new challenges, and helped them build something they didn’t know they had the power to create. That is exactly what happened at our first Hackathon...but not in the way we expected.
When 19 people out of almost 100 sign ups arrived on the day of the event to compete, we were panicked to say the least. We literally postponed the start for 2 hours in hopes that a magical crowd of hackers would come bursting in late to rescue us. No one else showed and we somehow convinced a band of volunteers to form a team to bring our total to 25 participants. While we considered it a huge failure and had some disappointed sponsors (We love you Higi and ColorJar), something beautiful came out. This band of misfit volunteers learned how to code for windows mobile overnight and won first place in the mobile category. Another student got an internship at ColorJar shortly after the event ended. To top it all off, I overheard an IIT alumn said, “I would pay $10,000 to have something like this for my company.” Our failure stung but we knew we had something special.
Our team planned feverishly for the rest of the Spring, the entire Summer and most of the Fall for our 2nd Hackathon sponsored by Nokia. We even came up with a name for ourselves, MonkeyBars. Worth. Every. Minute. 60 participants came to eat us out of house and home. The winning app has since been implemented in IIT’s student life office, numerous students learned one or more programming languages overnight and multiple students were hired after the event. I rarely allow myself to relive these moments but it is a feeling I will never forget.
So we’re back at it again. This time, we thought to ourselves, “What about the product designers? The people that build with their hands?” This is why we created MonkeyBars Spring Build, an open building competition for people from all walks of tech to bring an idea to reality in just 24 hours. By providing resources like 3D printers, arduino's and help from mentors, we are pushing the envelope of what can really be accomplished a day.
|Shapeoko CNC Milling Machine|
|Table top 3D printer|
I'd also like to thank Facebook and Microsoft for paying the bills. They say it takes a village to raise a child and Chicago’s tech community is sure growing fast. I feel fortunate to be a part of its most important years.
Event page: http://www.hackthemonkey.com/spring-build-2013.html