No More Job Fairs And HR Drama – Why Hackathons Are Pulling Crowds

By  |  November 23, 2018

So did you hear? Ethiopia’s game is changing! Well, here’s what’s up: the US Embassy in Ethiopia is set to train 600 youths on how to create solutions for their respective communities. Dubbed as Ethiopia Hacks!, the development saw the launch of a 12 hackathon series as part of its year-by-year Global Entrepreneurship Week celebration. This program, organized by the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa, in partnership with the Google Developers’ Group (GDG-Addis) and the Centre for Accelerated Women’s Economic Empowerment (CAWEE), is going to ensure that participants explore how tech can be leveraged to support innovation and job creation. The hackathons are reported to challenge young tech developers to identify prototype solutions to Ethiopia-based challenges. This move by a group as seemingly unrelated as an embassy cements the need for hackathons in Africa.

Have you ever attended a tech event in your community and they devoted a larger part of the meet time to a computer-based competition in which “hacking” met “marathon”? You saw young people striking at their keyboards, repeatedly pressuring the mouse with the index and getting their eyes more and more glued to the system screens. What’s more? The winner receives tens of hundreds of dollars in seed capital for proving to be a cyber-samurai. Well, as fun as it may seem, hackathons’ effectiveness lies in the aspect of exploration. As innovation is the brainchild of sheer curiosity, most businesses today are built on the foundation of formidable engineering. And as business thrives, there is that junction where engineering aligns with business needs and innovation then retires from the front seat. According to Apurva Dalal, an ex-Googler and Vice President of Engineering at Komli Media, hackathons are a way of letting the engineers do their stuff, allowing people come together and build something entirely outside their jobs – and having a good time while doing it.

Well, to burst the bubble that may have developed in your mind, hackathons don’t necessarily improve innovation, because whoever are the brains behind tech events and innovation-driven companies are aware that innovation is already the lifeblood of operations. In Africa, many companies are putting effort into inculcating hackathons into their programs – too many to begin to mention. It may seem the organizers of the Ghana Tech Summit, the Hajj Hackathon, Fintech Summit 2.0, Financial Inclusion Summit, Facebook-Developer Circles Community Challenge and the MIT Mic Africa Summit have so much money to throw around. But, while these think tanks want to reward startups for their innovative displays and grant them seed funding; here are other reasons why we won’t get enough of hackathons.


Focused Teamwork

Hackdays are spiced up with time constraints, and that serves as a motivation for teams to synergize quickly and stay as focused as possible. In hackathons, the teams have to make most of the time they have by playing to the strengths and abilities of one another. An event with good facilitators and some significant challenges potentially bring out the best in people, producing results that may change the world. As one can find in just about any team, agreeing on responsibilities early enough can go a long way in helping everyone stay on track and garner that feeling of value as the project progresses. You may not be entirely wrong to think the tasks are nerve-racking, but also know that some of the best working relationships owe their thanks to hacking day opportunities. Attending an event to build something fresh and impressive in one’s own time is a demonstration of great commitment over and above the norm. When techies get in the zone and put in their best alongside new people, it can be challenging, especially for the fact that it is often done in relatively new environments. But it doesn’t cut hackathons short as an opportunity to show people what you can do, without the pressures and pains that job interviews and HR teams have in the offing.


Anything Can Happen

No, this possibility is not on the wrong side of things. The opportunities that hackathons offer are usually vast and varied – new products could be devised, a business can be created, a startup could get funded, and meaningful relationships can be formed. These events are often one of the few places where the best ideas come from, asides incubation hubs and co-working spaces. Concepts are developed quickly, battle-tested to the witnessing of field-expert panels and passed into working as the potential changer bringer in the tech space. Even that seemingly great idea thought out by an Einstein-like brainiac may get shut down early by an experienced industry insider. Many people see this as a negative turnout, but on the bright side, it is incredibly valuable – you won’t be wasting your time, energy and even money on something with little or no makings of a difference. Failing fast actually means you can succeed quickly next time, and that could be achieved with minor changes.  If the idea of being in a hackathon team has ever shaken your bones, draw comfort from the fact that you are going to learn something new. Even as you are pushed out of your comfort zone, you will be provided with a limitless avenue to learn more stuff. With new datasets to access and challenges, you need to overcome, alongside expert people willing to help, hackathons are one of the largest technological learning pools.


Access To Mentors

Tech events are often flooded with globally decorated mentors and thought leaders. The facilitators often pay attention to making participants happy and provide for them an optimal working environment. Amidst lots of chops and beverages with quotations marks on caffeine, it is recognised that motivations and a lot of humour do the trick. If teams are to whip up as much as possible in 39 hours, then the facilitators must take into consideration that the participants can run out of ideas on how to go about solving an issue that will bug them. Even if they have such great ideas, they may lack the required experience to make them a reality within the given timeframes. The solution is often setting up a mentoring process and is by far the best decision any facilitator can make. Mentors have time and again proven themselves to be spirits and strengths behind the success of hackathons. With a couple of dedicated and extensively experienced mentors behind participants, low morale will be up, tips will be given, tricks will be in the many, crash-course tutorials will prevail, and creative flow will be jump-started with fresh ideas. Get this – in as much as the mentors will point participants in the right direction, the bulk of the work is not in their hands. If you read the stories about Nigerian and Kenyan schoolgirls that took ‘catching them young’ to a whole new level, then you must know that these prodigies were mentored all through the processes (their mentors are in the group photographs). When you participate in hackathons, you get access to mentors and great ones at that. Nothing then will stop you from being like Mustapha or even Silas Adekunle.


Participating In Community Development

The US Embassy in Ethiopia and partners are doing it for the good of communities – for communities to prevail and for the overall African development.Ethiopia is ranked the fifteenth poorest country in the world and one of the five most underprivileged in Africa. But thanks to the efforts of the current Prime Minister of the country, Abiy Ahmed, the country at least is high on the mountain of several challenges that need human and capital resources to create a comfier environment. As a landlocked country, Ethiopia’s primary challenge is drought, coupled with the fact that the more substantial part of the country’s populace comprises farmers. Citizens are living in poverty – estimated as 23.5 percent of the population. After the peace treaty with Eritrea, Ethiopia made a foray down the path of building its state. The U.S embassy, through the recently launched program that includes hackathons, will be helping Ethiopia develop an ecosystem that promotes entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology by investing in indigenous Ethiopians to beat the future of their country into shape. This goes to buttress that hackathons provide the much-needed face time with other people in the community development process. As a developer environment, the events will always bring techies together in a way that will allow them to learn new things from others, and channel the results to bolster the community and better the world.


Featured Image Courtesy: MaRs Discovery District 


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