How A Hackathon Improves A Marketer’s Tech Skills

This image from Instagram (http://ift.tt/1WygAEL) is my team, Team Public Cry, which participated in the 2016 IoTCivicHack at LaunchFishers in Fishers Indiana @attdevelopers

We hear the phrase Mar-tech in webinars and see it in posts everyday. But how does a marketer gain an appreciation for Mar-tech, especially when training budget for any marketer has been exhausted for the year?

One way is through participating in a hackathon. I should know – I participated in one, the AT&T Hackathon in April 2016. Through it I learned how hackathons offer valuable education time that rival the best paid training sessions or bootcamps.

A little background about the AT&T Hackathon: It was a 24 hour affair hosted at Launch Fishers in Fishers, an affluent suburb of Indianapolis. Launch Fishers had been in operation for a few years, and expanded that year to accommodate more entrepreneurs and startups.

The challenge for participants was to address a civic challenge, outlined by civic and business mentors. The goals was to build creative tech solutions that could help lawmakers, law enforcement and emergency services better understand and solve Indiana’s heroin and methamphetamine problems. The State Police Drug Lab and Marion County Emergency Services provided data related to the civic needs and services mentioned in the opening presentations, but participants were free to use data from many sources.

I cover two main benefits in this CMSWire post on the hackathon – you can read my experience there. Many of the lesson apply to developing a coherent customer experience.

So what else makes a hackathon so valuable for marketers?

For one thing, hackathons nourish an environment where you can ask questions and experiment with solutions without fear of being wrong, or even worst, ruining a budget. Developers are used to working with different frame works and experimenting with functionality into a functioning tool is established. Web development and programming can be plagued with a lot of trial and error, just like any other engineered product.

Another benefit of a hackathon is the fact that you can work with teams with a wide array of experiences. For example in my team for the AT&T hackathon I work with students from various Indiana universities. Some were majoring in marketing and business and others in computer science. I also met a student who was completing a software course through one of the new bootcamp programs such as General Assembly.

That diversity bring up another benefit; The value of humility. You recognize in a hackathon that you can not assume that you must have all the answers going in. Sometimes having part of the answer is important. For example I have been working with Meteor.JS, a JavaScript framework which includes client and server-side code that allows for one page apps to built and incorporate data easily. I have worked with a IDE call Cloud 9, but really had not develop a deep proficiency with developer code at the time.

It turned out during the hackathon that this skill gap did not matter. I collaborated with the other developers in the group to help figure out how to get the programming code to work and function correctly within the IDE. At the end of the hackathon we had some missteps, but we still had a relatively functioning app that we could describe and demonstrate.

The collaboration taught me that although preparation is important, such as having a working knowledge of frameworks, the true value from hackathons is determining how to deploy frameworks, especially within a given deadline.

Another aspect to note was that I was also among the older participants overall, let alone in my group. I was 47 at that time. But my age gave me an advantage of offering perspective on decisions that had to be made when the team met periodically in the development time allotted.

Hackathons can also help marketers understand what goes into the development process a lot more clearly than any words could ever express. Learning to work with cross-functional teams. Learning to leverage skill set that you have balanced with a curiosity to learn more can go a long way to make the hackathon experience enjoyable.

One personal revelation was discovering how much experience I could bring to others. After so many years marketers forget how their experience can help others. Twice I was asked by my younger members about what my experiences were in running an analytics company.

There are plenty of hackathons available for users to jump into. A hackathon does not have to be from within a college setting. ChicagoHack offers a weekly hackathon every Tuesday, in which developers from across the city to work with interested persons as well as provide a platform for learning of the latest data sources. Chicago, like many other cities , are leveraging open data to encourage developers to come up with apps that improve the quality of life in their communities.

Participation in hackathons or other groups blended with technical professionals can help marketers understand what’s going on in the real world without a lot of expense or extensive effort.

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