Rise of the Hack

I didn’t know it could be someone’s job to attend hackathons. I hadn’t heard of a developer evangelist before, so a year ago when I stumbled across an opportunity to become one, I was drawn by its novelty.

The mission was to build a developer community from the bottom up by saturating the hackathon scene, gaining allegiance from the early-adopters, the enthusiasts, the hackers. The kind of people who geek out over a new JavaScript library, smother their MacBook Airs with stickers, and maintain wardrobes consisting primarily of startup t-shirts.

If the goal is to build a business on an API, were hackathons the place to start? I wasn’t sure. The tactic seemed so niche. But hey, if someone wanted to pay me to travel and build weekend hacks, that sounded fun to me.

My first hackathon surprised me. I expected it to be quiet and secluded, consisting of the most die-hard geeks, an exclusive community disconnected from the outside world.

But it wasn’t. It was inviting. It was cool. It was a spot for anyone with an entrepreneurial itch to try something new, from bankers to artists to lawyers, all sprinkled amongst designers and developers of all skill levels.

I expected it to feel underground, but it didn’t. Microsoft and Amazon, among other high-profile sponsors, pitched their tools, platforms, and APIs to an eclectic group of would-be world-changers.

I realized after that first event that my weekend calendar was not going to be free for a while. There was no shortage of events to attend or companies wanting to throw sponsorship dollars at them.

I travelled to hackathons in Dallas, Portland, Boulder, Chicago, Las Vegas, Seattle, DC, and Boston, among others. Every city I went, I asked them the same question: what’s the tech scene like here?

Every time I got the same response: It’s growing.

Everywhere I went, people told me that their tech community was thriving, that their city was going to be the next big tech hub. A year ago there was nothing. Now there were incubators, investors, meetups, and new hackathons popping up every month.

It quickly became clear to me that hackathons are not an outlandish trend, popular only among techies in Silicon Valley and NYC. They are a national phenomenon.

We asked 150 hackathon attendees, hosts, and sponsors from across the country what they thought about the rise in hackathons. This is what we found;