Don’t Look Hack In Anger – my first hackathon

Life can be pretty rough as a freelance writer. You never know when your next gig is going to turn up. It could be days, even weeks before you get the chance to write. You don’t know what it is you might end up writing, but, when that opportunity comes along, you’ve got to grab it by the horns.

Why? Well, because you never know what doors it might open.

I found myself in this situation recently, struggling to find my next challenge. So I did what I what all good freelancers should do – I opened up my contacts book.

Two days later I was arriving at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester for my very first Hackathon – Hack Manchester.

Quite a turnaround, yes? That’s networking for you.

So, what is a hackathon, you ask? Well, basically, teams of coders and web developers get together and try to build a web application based on a series of challenges set by the sponsors of the event. This involves an understanding of several web-based languages, or code, something I personally have no knowledge of. I mean, I struggle even with basic English sometimes (after one too many).

So I arrived and once I’d fought my way past the queues of eager coders, I spotted Hector, founder of included.co who was already busily setting up his area where we would be conducting a live blog of the event. Beside him stood a huge TV screen where the latest news and info about the event would be beamed for all passers by to see.

I had met Hector the previous day in one of Manchester’s many Northern Quarter coffee houses, after my contact had put me in touch with him. Hector is a veteran of hackathons and has done this many times single-handedly. His live blogs on #includedLive have become legendary at promoting the hackathon world.

So, was I going to be able to step into his shoes? What would I learn about myself after so long on the writing sidelines?

IMG_1622 What followed over the next 24-hours was an intense and richly rewarding experience that re-energized my love for being a journalist. It highlighted skills I forgot I had or simply didn’t know I had. For example, I’m not so bad with a camera. I’m good at just approaching people and getting their stories, speaking to complete strangers and chronicling the event – the highs, the lows…even stumbling across Jesus walking on water!

The event itself was fantastic. It was inspiring to be surrounded by so many bright people, so many hard-working volunteers and organisers. Hack Manchester will turn 5 next year. It’s a giant collaborative effort that could not happen without the dedication of its organisers and sponsors.

It’s an event that I will happily give up my free time to be a part of again, not because of the mountain of free swag available or the constant supply of delicious, freshly ground coffee, but because it is fun.

Sometimes our rewards don’t always have to be financial. We can get as much satisfaction from just being a part of something special. Being a part of Hack Manchester was the kickstart I needed, the rejuvenation of my journalism career. I gave it my all and by the end of it I walked away feeling pretty damn good about myself.

Heck, I even got a cheer during the awards ceremony. I haven’t had recognition like that since my junior football days.

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