Make Lehigh Valley Make Hardware, Make Software, Make Art

23Mar/140

Should a Maker go to a Hackathon?

We invited Tim Lytle of LV Hack (among other things) to share his argument for why a hardware hacker should join an event that is traditionally for software hackers. They're really interested in having more hardware guys around to bring new ideas and make new things possible. There is some fun to be had! -- Josiah


What's a Hackathon?
First things first: A hackathon is an event - generally a few days on a weekend - that brings people together to build interesting things, all the while learning about new technology and sharing experiences. People may 'hack' on something: take a technology, exsisting product, or open source software, and repurpose it into something else, add features, or explore new uses. Other's may 'hack' something together: take various building blocks, APIs, hardware platforms, and create something completely new and unique.

What's a Hacker, and a Hack?
It's probably safe to say that most makers wouldn't raise an eyebrow at those terms - but in case the definition is a bit fuzzy, a hacker is simply someone really good at solving problems and overcoming limits in ways that may not seem obvious to most. Paul Graham has said that a hacker is "someone who can make a computer do what he wants—whether the computer wants to or not." And a hack is the imaginative, clever, and perhaps crafty output of that hacker. "Whether the result is a quick-and-dirty patchwork job or a carefully crafted work of art, you have to admire the cleverness that went into it" is how the Jargon file distils the meaning.

If you think that sounds a little like the software version of a maker - well, you'd be right.

But hacking is not really limited to software, and making is not really limited to just the things we can physically touch - so I'd venture to say that a hacker and a maker are pretty much the same thing.

But Why a Hackathon?
That's a fair question. Whether you're tinkering on a robot (or laser), working on some software project, or building something with a microcontroller - there's weeknights after work, open hack nights at the makerspace, and every other weekend. What makes a weekend hackathon so different?

It's for all those ideas that you're not working on yet. The ones that would take more than just a few nights to test the potential, or that need another set of eyes, a second pair of hands, or a few more heads to really figure out. And even when it's not your idea, it's a great opportunity to see what's bouncing around in someone else's head, and end up making something that inspires your next idea. 

The people you meet at a hackathon can become lifelong friends, partners on projects, and even at times the team that takes a hack of an idea, and turns it into something much bigger.

And while traditionally people think of hackathons as a place for software developers, that distinction is becoming less and less true. From software to embedded devices to mechanical engineering - we've seen a variety of hacks at our hackathons over the past few years. And we expect even more variety this time around, as our venue is the Wilbur Powerhouse with a assortment of printers and prototyping tools.

So yes, a maker should definitely go to a hackathon - and fortunately for you, there's one going on in just a few weeks. See you there?