VTHacks and why hackathons are essential for everyone

Last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in VTHacks as a sponsor and judge representing Rackspace. This was not my first hackathon, but it was definitely one of the largest I have attended. The event boasted an RSVP count of ~600 and had sponsors from several big companies which can be found on their event page. The venue was Cassel Coliseum located at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA.

Hackathons are now gaining traction as technology becomes more open and available. These events have slowly built up from a group of friends getting together to massive venues bringing people from across the country to work on projects. I was incredibly surprised at the amount of hardware projects specifically at VTHacks. I saw people using VR with the Oculus Rift and combining it with the Kinect to create a virtual environment where two people could interact with each other together. I saw drones covering the entire court, and some taking advantage of google glass to interact with a camera connected to it.

Here is the important part. Everyone should be involved in these events including non-technical individuals. This is bigger than just a few geeks getting together for a weekend. Students are starting to realize that taking a cookie cutter path of just going to college does not distinguish you enough. You have to tinker and learn and network with other people. Expose yourself to ideas you are not familiar with. When you interact with the community you will get so much out of it. All you have to do is particpate.

As for how I participated in VTHacks it mostly involved blogging and mentoring. I spent the majority of my time engaging with the teams and ensuring they had everything they needed to succeed in terms of technology questions, free hosting, or what I do on a daily basis as a developer. On Sunday I participated as a judge asking teams what they built and any hurdles they encountered, if at all. In particular we were looking to give out a prize from Rackspace to a team. We actually ended up announcing three winners, LockBox (innovative use of file uploads and security), PersonaliAds (tackling an interesting domain), and Space Game in Space (possibly the youngest hackers participating who were in Middle School using threads and networking with Java!)


I would like to thank Zack Lytle for giving me the opportunity to attend and help as he did most of the work with organizing Rackspace as a sponsor and I just kind of showed up to help :).

The next Blacksburg hackathon is at Heyo (facebook event) with a prize of $1000. Good luck!