First Hack Dallas Hackathon Creates HIV/AIDS Support System

First Hack Dallas is a 12-hour long mentor-supported hackathon for new developers and students organized by a group of seven Coding Dojo alumni: Oscar Cortazar-Luebbert, Ryan Culpepper, Farhan S., Terry Thomas, Tiffany Thompson, Cody Williams, and me, Chris Ulanowicz. Me, Ryan and Cody are also currently Apprentice Bootcamp Leaders at Coding Dojo Dallas.

It all started as an idea during a career services workshop at Coding Dojo. We were discussing networking and were asked about hackathons. Four of us were there that day and we realized there just weren’t very many in the DFW area. That ignited a spark, and we immediately thought, why not make our own? So we started jotting ideas on the whiteboard and First Hack was born.

First Hack Dallas Organizers

Right from the start, we knew we wanted to help other newer developers like ourselves, and that to the uninitiated, hackathons can be intimidating. So we created this with them in mind, and to help make it less intimidating, we decided to bring in mentor support for the hackers. We also felt that it was only right to make the project something that would benefit the community.

Naturally, with all of us being Coding Dojo alumni, we approached them about possibly hosting the event. Specifically, we went to Authman Apatira, Lead Instructor at the Dallas dojo, who loved the idea and has been fully supportive from the very beginning. Coding Dojo not only agreed to host it, but also provided one of the meals, and even sponsored part of the grand prize.

We were also able to gain support from several other sponsors including Dialogs Software, Women Who Code Dallas, Modern Message, Minecraft U, Odyssey Information Services, Boost Stream, Fort Work, High Brew Coffee, The DEC and DrawAttention. Some of the sponsors even had representatives attend and act as mentors. Plus, we were lucky enough to find several other experienced professionals to donate their time and act as mentors, which many of the participants were very thankful for.

For the project, we luckily crossed paths with a new organization called RedRibbon.us, which came together to provide a centralized support system for those in the Dallas community impacted by HIV/AIDS. They were in need of help bringing that mission to a realization and agreed to allow us to make them the focus of the hackathon project. That project was a complete web app where people could go, register and get access to services available to them which met their own criteria.

What began as a simple idea in mid-August, culminated on Saturday, November 5th.  We had 44 hackers show up, making up nine teams, three of which were actually current Coding Dojo Students. Projects were built in Python, Ruby on Rails, Node.js, and C#/.NET. Teams built full websites, a web API, and even a Facebook bot. The latter ended up being the winning project created by team “Name Here.”

So, what does the future hold for First Hack Dallas? Organizing this hackathon was a LOT of work, especially in just a little over two months, but it was all worth it. While we haven’t set out our exact plans yet (we’re meeting on it later this week), you can be rest assured First Hack Dallas will be back and even better in 2017!

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