Hackathons are the marathons of the tech world. They are intense, high-energy-required slogs that can push a developer past her comfort zone.

Typically multi-day events where teams create new products, platforms or apps, and pitch to panel of judges, hackathons put an enormous amount stress on participants.

Some hackers go in with a game plan, and code through the night. Others prefer to meet new people and build in plenty of rest.

For Kristin Flannigan, hackathons are all about community and creating bonds.

The University of Waterloo social development studies grad may not be the typical hacker. Flannigan, through co-op terms at tech companies such as Thalmic Labs, Kik and Facebook, watched internal hackathons and thought they looked like fun.

So last summer she taught herself to code, and decided to experience a hackathon.

She applied to Hack the North, a new hackathon on the University of Waterloo campus, but she wasn’t accepted as a participant. She decided to volunteer instead.

After one volunteer meeting, she recognized the team needed help with logistics, sponsorship and event details — areas in which she had hands-on experience. She signed on.

Today the new grad is Hack the North’s director of sponsorship relations. She also works with Kik as its on-campus recruitment specialist.

She’s planning another hackathon, this time with Kik, at the University of Waterloo, Jan. 30-Feb. 1. Hack the North attracted 1000 plus attendees; Flannigan expects around 150 for this software-focused hackathon. Hackathons go far beyond a weekend of coding, regardless of the size, she said.

“It’s a community,” Flannigan said. “People know each other. They stay connected, and they help each other.”

She has noticed that hackathons in Waterloo Region tend to focus on innovation rather than competition.  Huge prizes are often on the line — cash, electronic equipment and mentorship. Still, winning seems to be only one aspect catching the interest of attendees.

“If someone can help, they help,” Flannigan said. “It may be three in the morning and you’re celebrating success; but if you see someone struggling you stop to offer solutions. It’s not cutthroat. It’s a community. That’s why it works so well here.”

While applications are still open for the Kik hackathon, Flannigan and the rest of her team are already gearing up for the 2015 Hack the North in September. Flannigan, an arts grad, wants more arts-, creative- and business-minded participants to sign up.

“We need the business thinkers to help take these hacks to the next level,” Flannigan said. “Yeah, you might be able to code an awesome product, but can you pitch it? Can you explain it? Can you sell it to judges?”

Flannigan is also a fan of community-based hackathons, like Communitech’s Startup Weekend Waterloo Region, Feb. 6-8 at the Communitech Hub. It encourages people with any background to experience not only a hackathon, but what it is like to start a business.

“It helps to know what’s going on here,” Flannigan said. “It also give tech a chance to give back to the awesome community we live in [through judging, mentorship and prizes].”


If you can’t wait for an upcoming hackathon, never fear! A variety of tech-focused events are happening this week… I see and hear that…. Tonight is the Waterloo-Wellington Webmakers meet-up at McCabes in downtown Kitchener. Join the group at 7 p.m. for an evening of conversations about all things web… Women Who Code is hosting a hack night at D2L at the Lang Tannery,Thursday, Jan. 15 from 6:30-8:30 p.m…. This weekend is the KW Tri-Con at THEMUSEUM, 10 King St. W. in Kitchener. The anime, comic and gaming convention kicks off at 10 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 17. A weekend pass costs $26. 55. Day passes are also available.