What started off as UBC Hacks, an event that Kristen and I started together in the beginning of our university journey has now grown and evolved into a 34 person Alma Mater Society (AMS) club, under the name, nwPlus. This December 1st marks the third time I've organized UBC Local Hack Day— the largest LHD in North America! 🎉
We have already published blog posts about the event itself through Medium, The Ubyssey and our Facebook page, but here are some of my personal learnings from watering this plant for the past 3 years! 💖
1. Building out a vision is important, but what's next?
It's no secret that this event started off as a seed in 2 people's minds. Kristen and I wanted to promote diversity, inclusivity and accessibility within our local tech communities. And I do truly believe that we have made significant strides towards that goal, by bringing students together to discuss and solve problems in these sectors. We invested tremendous amounts of effort and time towards building this, and I don't regret any of it. However, we were tunnel visioned by our own vision and forgot to think about what comes next. What happens when Kristen and I graduate— how could this legacy possibly be carried on, if we didn't proactively pass on the torch on our end?
In comes nwPlus and Allison.
We expanded our club so there were now dedicated teams bringing in their domain expertise for both LHD and nwHacks, meaning that more people were involved with putting the event together as a whole, and this knowledge and pipeline were being passed on.
We also welcomed Allison into our family as a Logistics Coordinator. She wholeheartedly believes in our mission and I believe in hers. Even if Kristen and I hadn't started this event 3 years ago, I have faith that Allison would have. I feel so lucky and honoured to pass on the ins and outs of the hackathon to her while knowing that she will take them with a grain and salt, and always question them if there is room for improvement.
For the first time, the behind the scenes of UBC Hacks expanded beyond just Kristen and I, and this is exactly what we were hoping for.
2. Do things because you want to, not because you have to
The logistics of merging the 2 clubs was easier said than done, and it probably didn't help that Kristen and I had so much ownership over everything we've done prior to the creation of nwPlus. That being said, I do think we have successfully done this now, and it was a lot more seamless than one would probably imagine it being. However, there were definitely small hiccups along the way (which were bound to happen).
It was difficult for our sponsorship team to reach out to companies for both LHD and nwHacks. I stepped in and helped move a lot of the LHD sponsors along, while the team worked on nwHacks as the larger event took up more capacity. That was a tradeoff that we needed to make because we have yet to merge our 2 sponsorship packages together, but I think this ended up being a helpful transition in terms of passing on the companies that were re-sponsoring our event to the team.
Our dev team was crunched for time and we knew we couldn't finish building the LHD website before registration would have gone live. So I stayed up that night and made a temporary (and admittedly not AMAZING) website for us to put up so that we could at least open registration at the time we intended to, while dev team made our dazzling final website.
A part of me felt disappointed about these 2 things, yet, it was exactly times like these where I realized how important it was that we were now part of a larger team. It's so that I have the opportunity to help out however I can, while knowing they would and did do the same when I ran into roadblocks myself. Upon that realization, I started doing things because I wanted to contribute / help, and not because I felt like I had to. This is the same motto that everyone in this club embodies, which brings me to the next point.
3. 💩happens but it's how we, as a team, deal with it that matters
The day before the event, I drafted up this doc of "Worst Case Scenarios" that we could run into, and what we should do if they actually happened. Let it be known that almost everything on that list happened (mostly related to participants capacity)— but those we already knew how to address, we just needed to execute them. On top of that, our t-shirt orders didn't make it to the event in time, we lost the nametags we had bought, our videographer didn't show up, and the list could probably go on. None of which were within our control, nor drastically augmented the quality of the event, but my heart sank a little more every time I heard about these things. Upon realizing them, our team took immediate action to address them. We got a refund on our late t-shirts and assigned new pick up dates / locations for participants to come in at a different time to receive them. Nick and Lauren went to the store to pick up name tags. A lot of us brought our cameras so we all helped collect video footage from the event. Every time something didn't go exactly as planned, I knew that we would figure it out together, as a team. I am so thankful for every single club member who goes above and beyond to help make our events a success.
p.s. organizing an event is stressful, don't forget to check in on yourself and the other organizers throughout the day as well! 😊
4. People are great and we ended up donating all of our top prizes! 🏆
We had a $500 budget for our top 3 winners this year (along with some in-kind prizes). Knowing that we would have to buy either a gift card or some other gadgets with the money to give out anyway, we just decided to let the participants choose what they wanted to do with their allocated funds instead— with the option to donate the value of their prize to a charity / organization they cared about, or to choose from a list of prizes that equated to the same value. Here was a list of our prizes and our judging rubric, and all 3 winning teams decided to donate their prizes. This is inspiring.
1st place- $250 to Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
2nd place - $125 to Lookout Society
3rd place - $75 to Greater Vancouver Food Bank
5. There's always more to do and more to learn
The event just wrapped up and I'm already pacing back in forth in my mind about ways we can continuously improve our event for next year, and all the years after that. We will also apply our learnings to nwHacks, which is coming right up on January 26-27! I'm so excited for what's to come and I can't wait to write about this again next year.
If you came to the event, I would love to hear how your experience was and what you think we should focus on next year, feel free to schedule a quick chat with me. Onwards and upwards!