Like it or not, hackathons have now become an integral part of the startup tech scene. Some tech companies sponsor them for product feedback, some do it for brand recognition. But there are also those who do it for recruitment. Hackathons are pristine opportunities to round up a large group of hackers (and designers, etc), and put them through a faux group interview process, by seeing how they work solo, in teams, in stress, etc.
Last weekend, I went down to our nation’s capital – Washington DC, for the Washington Posts’s 2012 election hackathon. While I was expecting to have an overall good time (you can only imagine how nice the food was at WaPo’s HQ), I wasn’t necessarily expecting to be blown away by DC’s talent. That is not to say anything against DC, but rather that it’s not in every hackathon that I’m surprised by the quality and level of programming.
I arrived a bit late to the party (thanks, Greyhound / #Failhound), but quickly set my things up and began talking to the folks there. By the end of the first day, I was absolutely blown away by the programming talent in the room. I’ve spoken to guys who code for the State department, guys who programmed in some of the oldest programming languages out there – COBOL and MUMPS, girls who have made me look like an uneducated script-kiddie next to their level of statistical programming abilities, and more. Truly, I had some great conversations with the participants, learning about politics, political tech, and other things that just don’t come up in the everyday NYC/SF tech bubble life.
The hackathon ended on a high note, with one of the most well-organized, most efficient demos session I’ve ever seen. Teams were queued up one after another, demoing quickly, and answering the judge’s questions effectively. My favorite demo belonged to Tom Lee, a non-contestant – a hardware hack that used an RGB light string that pushes a blue light down the string when an Obama tweet came in, and a red light when a Romney one did.
Great job, Dave! .. Have you been to DC’s tech scene recently? You really should.