For Anyone (and I mean anyone) Who Wants to Try a Hackathon

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Hack…a…thon. Yes, you read that correctly - nothing in there suggests either footwear design or trend analysis. I ended up in this project development tech event to learn more about the industry through active participation. Though I enjoy the comforts of understanding a process or its people, my decision to go against my securities supplied irreplaceable lessons over my abilities and their flexibility.

Some of you might know what a hackathon is, while others will not. At a hackathon, developers, designers, project managers and experts get together for a continuous project building challenge. They can last for several hours to several days in either a private or all-welcome setting. In the footwear world, these get-togethers are not common – or even exist to my knowledge. The tech industry is more keen to building community through such events than legacy industries.

The Dutch Open Hackathon in Rotterdam this year brought together these groups with Polite, Philips, Schiphol, PostNL, Kamer van Koophandel and KLM to create new mobile applications with the APIs (application program interface) and technologies of these businesses. The goal of our 48-hour development period was to introduce new services and opportunities with working prototypes. The Dutch Open Hackathon started with a meet-and-greet and event introduction, moving quickly to concept pitches and team formation. After that, the figurative starting gun fired and everyone got to work.

Now, many of you might not even sign up for a Hackathon because you think – Well, what would I do there? I know because that is what I thought too. With experience around throwing myself into unfamiliar situations, I knew it would end positively. My wonderings at the time focused on how I would maneuver a world that operates under standards different from my current industry. Without any more blah, blah, here are a footwear designer’s learnings from my first Hackathon.

Great concepts can be developed very, very quickly

When joining a larger company, it seems like ideas can take years to be accepted and then executed. Your expectations slow down as meeting after meeting get scheduled to review a single pitch. Participating in a Hackathon reminded me that great ideas can get prototyped and advanced quickly. Within only 48 hours, in our case, timelines allowed us to think a concept through without doubt overshadowing the project. With no time to overthink, only time to execute, the process was intuitive and intense.

Your skills are more flexible than you think

I can say with 99% certainty I was the only footwear designer at this Hackathon. Nevertheless, I knew my skills could contribute to a project including concepting, presenting, collaborating, video editing and designing. Even though this challenge differed from my daily tasks, the programs I learned on the job could help. In the end, everything came together even though during the Hackathon I learned Xcode on the run and edited a video in two hours. The experience inspired me to learn more about UX design and reassess the design lessons I learned from footwear in another medium.

Tech knows community building

Footwear companies have their norms. Like meeting someone from another country for the first time, I was enthralled by the distinctive approaches in tech. My own industry culture varies from tech, where I feel both could learn from each other. Hackathons display tech’s overall attitude toward innovation, engagement, risk-taking and most importantly, community building. Hackathons could be used in footwear or apparel to achieve similar benefits. Footwear seems like an exclusive industry, where a Designathon (working name) could open our field to new possibilities.

When leaving my first hackathon, I felt a sense of accomplishment. This cultivated not from creating a product on short timelines, but reminding myself that discomfort resolves in better-than-expected results. Participating in such an event jumpstarted my perception on productivity and community. Perhaps my team could treat every Monday like a hackathon. By solving one large challenge in a day, our focus could be optimised and harder projects made more approachable. Whether you’re in the tech industry or not, try a hackathon once in your life to see if it’s teachings could apply to your own industry.