I haven’t thrown up since I was 12 (twenty years ago); however, my streak almost ended a few weeks ago during my idea pitch at my first hack-a-thon. I’d given lectures at conferences and even done comedic improv, but pitching an idea near to your heart is about as vulnerable as it gets.
Telling my friends about where I was headed all weekend, they were confused. The word “hack” wasn’t a part of our philosophical or cosmological language. Even as the word came out of my mouth it sounded harsh and verbodding. “Why would you hacking things, it sounds harsh?” one of them asked and I didn’t have a good answer. I knew the word “hack” from the life “hacks” on Facebook about using a toilet paper roll as a vase, or other incredibly helpful ways for living.
However, I had never been to a hack-a-thon before and had no idea what to expect, or how to describe it to people. So instead I just started using the word a lot hoping no one would ask me what it actually was.
I had a vague idea, from hearing it described in some of my entrepreneurship classes. The image was one of a bunch of dudes with ponytails hovered over computers speaking using a bunch of lingo eating Subway. In actuality the hackathon I attended was a group of diverse, community-centric people wanting to change the world. The Living the New Economy was more of an idea hack versus a code hack and I couldn’t be more grateful to hijack the hack from tech folks.
Okay, back to the hack-a-thon. After being approved for the first round of ideas, I sat next to a white board waiting for others to join me. I smiled eagerly at everyone as they walked passed and some even offered me suggestions about my idea. I sat alone without a team for about fifteen minutes and then someone sat down next to me…and then another, and then another. So we were four, my fav number. It was myself, a bright-eyed 25-year old woman, a middle-aged dad from Alameda, and a co-housing guru.
I still can’t believe there are strangers willing to work for free for that long on an idea that isn't even their own. I got choked up thinking about it every time and I think my team was pretending not to notice that I was teary almost every two hours right as we were getting to something meaty.
In the end, we got runner-up, because one of the judges was adamant our idea wouldn't work. (I obviously disagree.) There’s a lot of work to be done, but the win gave the me extra boost I needed to keep motivated and meet some incredible people. And now I get to walk around saying I was one of the winners of a hack-a-thon and watch people pretend to know that that means.