LinkedIn Girl Hackathon Experience

    I've been falling asleep for a day now and come to my senses after the DevelopHer 2013 hackathon organized by LinkedIn on their campus in Mountain View. I am very glad that I took part in it, and while the first impressions have not disappeared from my head, I want to share my observations and experience. Best of all, probably, the question-and-answer format is suitable here. If I missed something interesting, I will be happy to answer your questions at the end of the article. So:

    - What was that?
    - Hackathon is an event where a crowd of programmers gathers voluntarily to work day and night on their projects, alone or in small groups, within the framework of the stated topic. At the end of the work, projects are submitted to other participants and / or judges. Hackathons are thematic, dedicated to a particular technology, sponsored by large corporations, and sometimes simply spontaneous in the circle of friends. DevelopHer had no theme, but as the name implies, only the young ladies participated in it.

    - All-all were programmers?
    - According to my feelings (there are no official statistics), 75% are programmers (mostly front-end, but there were a lot of back-end), the remaining 25% are usability and designers, as well as marketers and other interesting characters who came to the hackathon with the goal of pick up a team to implement some of their ideas or puzzles. There were many pros from the industry - developers from LinkedIn, eBay, Apple. There were undergraduates of universities, graduate students (PhD students), students of Hackbright Academy.

    - Did participation involve a team?
    - There were teams that formed in advance. There were teams that found each other right on the spot. Announcements in the style of "we need a UI / UX expert for mobile applications" were posted on a large board. I was not confident in my abilities and did not want to “slow down” others, so I prepared an idea for my project in advance and participated solo. These were also.

    “And what, really, they pounded the keyboard all day and night?”
    - The hackathon began at 5 pm Friday and ended at 4 pm Saturday. The first hour - registration, dating and the selection of teams. At 6 pm - a short greeting from the organizers and background information. At about 6:30 p.m. everyone scattered around the projects and the work began to boil. Those teams that were barely familiar with each other, for some time loudly discussed emerging projects, agreeing on roles, tools and a common vision. We had to finish at 13:30 on Saturday, after which the demonstrations and the final judging began. Thus, about 19 hours were allotted to the actual projects.

    - What can you write in 19 hours?
    - I was very interested in this question, so I watched with great interest the demonstrations of other people's projects, who managed what and how the roles were distributed in the teams. This is the most interesting moment, perhaps: if you are just entering the industry (or returning after a long break, as in my case), then participating in such events helps to “spy” on the collective work of a large number of professionals at once. This inspired me very much - how professionally many participants took the project “right off the bat” and did it on time using an entire arsenal of tools (libraries, APIs, technologies).

    The vast majority of projects were social web applications using the APIs for LinkedIn, FourSquare, Facebook, Google Analytics, Google Maps, etc. About 20 percent were social apps for smartphones. And all those who reached the final, in principle, worked - demonstrated the declared functionality and at the same time looked quite usable. A large percentage of projects (according to my estimates - at least 40%) were services for recruiters and those who are looking for work. Just some kind of boom. There were a couple of toys and educational projects. There were practically no projects “programmers writing something for programmers”. In my group (there were three preliminary judicial boards for 27 projects, we were randomly divided into three groups), my project was the only one from this area. I wrote a series of widgets that modify and extend the capabilities of jQuery UI.

    - What did they mostly write on?
    - Front-end: JavaScript, jQuery / jQuery UI, Bootstrap, Backbone and much more, including a variety of APIs. Back-end: a very wide variety - Scala, Ruby on Rails, Java, there is no way to sort through everything, except to watch every project. By the way, here they are(of those that were submitted to the refereeing). What caught my eye: owning an extensive set of tools. Considering that many teams were formed right on the spot: an idea could come to one participant, and another part was implementing the program part. And so it turned out that for any puzzle there was a set of tools that were suitable for this puzzle. Server programmers must own a couple of libraries (Bootstrap, jQuery UI), which allows them to easily dock with the frontend. The same goes for UI / UX designers. In the final selection, there was even one solo project of a UX designer, who realized her idea completely independently using Bootstrap / SQLAlchemy / LESS / jQuery / etc.

    - Were there any restrictions on projects or tools?
    - Yes. Only open technologies and open data were allowed. There were no restrictions on the subject. Projects had to be written from scratch. But I am sure, of course, that at least those who came to the hackathon with the team carefully prepared - thought out their projects, selected and studied the necessary libraries. My preparation was to create a project on github, fill it with fresh jQuery UI, and drag a few free skins for web interfaces from the Internet to daddy so that there was something to pull on my widgets. Hands to the skins never reached, well, okay.

    - Could you elaborate on organizational issues? Have you chewed pizza all night and drank coffee? And if in the morning it was cut down, what did you do?
    - LinkedIn took the spacious cafeteria of its headquarters under the hackathon. At our disposal were coffee machines, all kinds of tea, ice cream yogurt with snacks, ready-made sandwiches in the refrigerator and all sorts of small snacks. Several times during the day brought breakfast lunches. At midnight chocolate strawberries and tiny cheesecakes fell on us.

    It seemed to me that many did not sleep at all. Since I couldn’t really get enough sleep the day before, I used the rest room with pleasure, which was organized for us in one of the meeting rooms. They threw giant pillow chairs, which were a pleasure to sleep in. About sleep I must say that it is important to calculate your strength and go to rest / sleep at the moment when you start to skid in one place from fatigue. I lost two hours like this: after waking up from a four-hour dream, I erased everything without writing, and wrote everything in an unproductive time and rewrote it again in 20 minutes. It was necessary to stop earlier.

    What else is interesting about the organization: on Saturday, a kindergarten was organized for children, if someone needed it. During the hackathon, two yoga sessions were conducted, one late in the evening and one in the morning. They say yoga is a typical attribute of girl hackathons. The second typical attribute is cupcakes with cream. They were there too, right after we closed the computers at 13:30. I really liked the professional work of the organizers! No one had to fight with connecting laptops or phones to demo monitors - for this there were technicians who, without question, instantly did everything right.

    - And what is the age of the participants?
    - Mostly 28–35 years old. Students, naturally, are younger - 20–28. A few participants aged about 50; Interestingly, almost all of them passed the qualifying refereeing and reached the final.

    - And who are the judges?
    - The final refereeing was carried out (I understood it just now ... that's what the sleepy brain means!) LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn vice president of corporate relations Shannon Stabo and heads of two other IT companies. Behind Jeff's back, a charming five-year-old daughter painted some funny animals, then listened very carefully to the presentation, climbing into his arms.

    - What gives participation in this event? Why can’t you lock yourself at home for 24 hours and do the same thing near your home monitor, fridge and bed?
    - Of course it is possible. I think those who want to seriously grow in their chosen field can not only do this, but they also need to be done periodically. But the hackathon gives additional bonuses and at each level of professional development they are different. Beginners like me get a clearer idea of ​​what to strive for. Pros and ambitious graduate students compete for prizes (winners received on MacBook Air). For some, this is a chance to learn more about the organizing company and more confidently submit your application for a vacancy. Each has its own goals and interests.

    - If there are all such cool professionals, then why is this segregation by gender?
    - Well, firstly, not all participants are successful professionals. As you know, help is much easier to accept and its effectiveness is higher when it comes from a person who is closer to you in society. The same goes for role-playing examples. Therefore, if you want to gain confidence in your abilities, it makes sense to start with what is closer to you. In addition, work in predominantly male groups does not provide an understanding of what we really are as professionals if we “remove all men”. Again, each has its own considerations. About a hundred people took part in the hackathon, so we can say that no matter what goals we all set, this event was in demand.

    I will be pleased to take part in this hackathon for the next year, and in others, thematic and general. And in a year I hope to compete for prizes! I would be glad to participate in such a hackathon in Russia: in my native Ulyanovsk, hackathons are also gaining popularity and it would be great if once a year (yes, even on the eighth of March!) And something like that would be done here.

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