Or, Why I Don’t Do Well At Hack Days
What do all of the hack events on the right have in common? Can’t see the link?
Well, they’re all Hack Days/events which I’ve attended but never hacked anything worth demoing. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t wasted my time. I’ve usually redesigned my website or noodled about with something trivial, as well as just hanging out with friends. Which is great, but there hasn’t been much to show for it at the end.
Most hack organisers encourage you to play with this or that API or data provided by the Sponsors. They probably don’t want to see the new WordPress theme you’ve written for your own personal photographic site during the demo sessions.
So what? You could have done that at home, anytime.
Why Don’t I Do Specific Hacks?
My problem is twofold. Firstly, I just don’t seem to have any original ideas for cool stuff to build, even if given the data and other info in advance. Some people are ideas people, and they come up with amazing projects in their sleep. I’m just not one of them.
“Ah, well team up and make someone else’s idea!” I hear you say.
This is where we come to my second problem.
I’m a generalist. I always have been.
I know a bit of stuff about a lot of things. But not many of them in much depth. As I lone freelancer building mainly “brochure” websites for SME clients directly, I have to know a wide gamut of things from database management right the way through to visual design and UX. So when other hackers ask what I do, it’s tough to say where my strongest skills lie. And because I usually work on projects on my own most of the time, I don’t have much self-confidence to team up with other people. Sounds pathetic, doesn’t it? But that’s how it is.
Like it or not, there’s also a lot of latent (and not-so-latent) snobbery amongst some of the dev community. What do I mean? Well, the vast majority of other hackers seem to use Macs, they don’t write PHP and they use completely different dev tools to me. Most of the “OMG you use Windows and PHP and Dreamweaver?” jibes are meant in jest, but they don’t do much to inspire self confidence in people who are already lacking in that department. And it can be difficult to get these disparate environments to play nicely together anyway.
Learn Ruby! Get a mac! Use TextMate! are all “solutions” to my problem. Apparently. As if I didn’t have enough things I know a bit (but not enough) about…
There Have Been Exceptions
Which Tee – Leeds Hack 1
There have been three notable exceptions to the usual Caz-Goes-To-A-Hack-Event-And-Yet-Again-Doesn’t-Achieve-Anything scenarios.
Culture Hack in London saw me build a rough and ready searchable database of the Radio Times. You could look up what was on the telly on the day you were born. Exciting eh?
I worked on it on my own using my familiar tools. For once, I had an idea. Just not a very useful one.
At Leeds Hack 1 I teamed up with Alistair and Martin to put together a silly app helping geeks not to wear the same tshirt as their mates each day. We just about cobbled something together, but we had teething troubles and I didn’t really feel like I had contributed very much 🙁
We won some biscuits – yay!
OTA ’11 saw me throw my hat into the ring and pick up a saw to help Ewan and Leeky build a little Enigma machine! We didn’t win a thing, but we had fun.
So maybe I should do more hardware hacking? But that’s often not as easy as it sounds as most hack events are heavily biased towards programming, even if you are using some “hardware”.
I haven’t bothered to attend some recent hack events in light of the issues above. You probably think that’s a cop out. But it does stop me stressing about this stuff. It just doesn’t help to address any of it. Which is why I’m a bit apprehensive about attending Hacked.io this weekend. If you see me faffing about with my local camera club’s website, you’ll know why. 🙁
Maybe my biggest problem is, I know a lot of very smart people and therefore feel so left behind with my skills. That’s certainly not an easy thing to put right in 24 hours, although I’m trying to chip away at it bit by bit, whilst still attempting to earn a living.