Jessica Zehavi — Mentor

Jessica Zehavi

“Hack the Gap has always been focused on community and social justice,” she said. “And everyone who gets involved is passionate about the causes they work on during the hackathon.”

She believes this focus has something to do with the fact that Hack the Gap is composed of women and non-binary folk.

“Responding to the needs we see… that’s how we tend to show up for the community,” she said.

Having a veteran developer on the team is helpful when a project gets stuck, but developers are not the only people needed.

“These projects can all benefit from people with experience in different things like marketing, business planning, revenue generation, social media, strategic planning, and project management, not just developers,” she said, adding that the idea that you need to be a developer to enjoy participating in a hackathon is a myth. “Be flexible and add value however you can. It’s a necessary skill to just be willing to jump in and try something new.”

Now in her fourth year of mentoring, Zehavi said she tries to check in regularly with the teams and not let them spin too long on a problem.

“Devs tend to get focused on one thing, and a lot of the time, it’s stuff that can just be mocked up and is not critical to have complete for demo day,” she said.

Zehavi reminds them that it’s just that — a demo of a concept.

“I don’t want them to get hung up for too long on something unnecessary.”

The big takeaway? If you’re thinking about participating in next year’s event, Zehavi thinks you should just do it.

“Come in with an open mind,” she said. “No matter what your background or level of experience, it’s needed. You will learn a ton, and it’s a great opportunity to get a taste for development and gain some experience.”

 

Casie Siekman — Participant

Casie Siekman

tech.mn: What made you decide to sign up for Hack the Gap?

Casie Siekman: I’ve mentored several times before and it always looked like so much fun! I would always feel a twinge of jealousy on presentation day and regret that I hadn’t signed up – but I just never had the time to dedicate a whole weekend to participate. Now, with the virtual hackathon, I am able to participate!

tech.mn: What has been the most surprising thing to happen so far?

CS: How quickly our group just started developing this app – the ideas, the UX, the actual code. Everyone dove in headfirst!

tech.mn: Do you feel that you’re learning more about an aspect of development?

CS: How hard it is to work remotely! I’m an instructor at Prime Digital Academy and my students are currently working on their pro-bono client projects in groups of four or five…and I now know how hard it is to collaborate remotely during these stressful times.

tech.mn: What words of advice do you have for someone thinking about joining in next time?

CS: Just do it! No matter what your specialty is, you have something to offer to the team. It’s a great way to challenge yourself in a whole new way and meet some fantastic people.

 

 

Michelle Maryns — Participant

Michelle Maryns

tech.mn: Is this your first Hack the Gap?

Michelle Maryns: This is not my first hackathon, but it’s my first time participating in a team for Hack the Gap. I have attended the Hack the Gap Demo Days in the past but haven’t had a chance to work with a team until this year.

tech.mn: What made you decide to sign-up for Hack the Gap?

MM: I decided to sign up for Hack the Gap because I want to support more women/non-binary people in the tech field. I was especially excited to see that we would be working on solving community problems around COVID-19! Plus, I’m a big fan of Caroline and want to support all of the things she’s doing.

tech.mn: What has been the most surprising thing to happen so far?

MM: The most surprising thing so far is how many different geographic locations my team is from so far. We’ve had people from New York, San Francisco, and Dallas on our team so far and it has been fun collaborating with them virtually on this hackathon.

tech.mn: Do you feel that you’re learning more about an aspect of development?

MM: Yes, I am definitely learning more about development. We’re building out a diagnostic for small businesses so it has been interesting to explore the different tools available out there (e.g. Typeform vs. Qualtrics) and think through how our users (small businesses) will interact and understand the questions we’re asking them.

tech.mn: What words of advice do you have for someone thinking about joining in next time?

MM: My words of advice are to just do it! If you’re thinking of joining, just join. I guarantee that you’ll learn something new and work with some amazing team members, mentors, and volunteers. Remember to go in with an open mind and don’t worry about building something perfect–just use it as a chance to explore and try something new!

 

 

Leah Meilander — Participant

tech.mn: What made you decide to sign-up for Hack the Gap?

Years ago, a roommate had participated, and she really enjoyed the experience. Recently I had seen posts from the Hack the Gap account on Twitter or LinkedIn and thought, “Well, shoot. This seems like the perfect time to do this! I’ve got extra time on the weekends now, and I’ve been wanting to dive deeper into the world of web des/dev recently, too.”

tech.mn: What has been the most surprising thing to happen so far?

The most surprising thing so far… Not sure if surprising or kind of ironically funny is with the nature of the event (using tech to boost our communities) it’s funny to see us all still act like, “well, that’s technology” which is usually stated when we hit tech bumps in the road and shrug it away. And to build on that – the most surprising thing, I think, is how everyone’s “muscle memory” just kind of kicks in so the team can function like a team of professionals (rather than a team for a school project where the workload doesn’t make sense). We all know our strengths/roles where it’s collaborative but not in a way that stalls a project. Amazing.

tech.mn: Do you feel that you’re learning more about an aspect of development? If so, what? 

In a “vicariously” kind of way, yes. I am so thankful to have such skilled and awesome team members who just know where to pick things up when it comes to dev (front & back). Like, oh, I’ll check out APIs, we’ll build in React, I can put together the front-end pieces here so you can access them, we can host it here for the demo. ALL of that is so totally over my head. It’s great to be connected with these other members, because I want to ask questions such as “How do you know when to do XYZ? And what resources do you keep in your back pocket for ABC?”

tech.mn: What words of advice do you have for someone thinking about joining in next time?

My word of advice would be, if you have the time or can find the time, you almost have nothing to lose by just giving it a shot – have fun with this. Speaking of the time though, know that you will essentially devote a whole weekend on the build, and a handful of hours through the week for touch-ups. I wouldn’t go so far as to say, it’s like the time devoted to a job, but understand that your involvement does matter to the team and the project. Other than understanding the time set aside, I would recommend having no expectations. Not to say, this is a low-bar thing. Not at all. More of a, keep an open mind thing & HAVE FUN. This is really, you get out what you put in.

 

Rachel Oldfield — Participant

Rachel Oldfield

tech.mn: Is this your first hackathon?

Rachel Oldfield: Yes! I had heard of them, but that was it.

tech.mn: What made you decide to sign-up for Hack the Gap?

RO: I hadn’t heard of Hack the Gap before. I’ve been doing some work with We Sparkle, a social enterprise geared towards helping small businesses, and their founder, Michelle [Maryns], invited me. Honestly, I didn’t consider that as a non-developer I could even participate in a hackathon. I’m a product manager currently for a non-tech company. I’ve consulted on brand and product strategy for tech companies in the past and I’m fascinated by the creativity, human-centeredness and agility of tech, and how it can be created from scratch to solve problems; I was excited to be a part of the end-to-end process from exploring a potential problem to building something. I was especially attracted to the idea of a hackathon for social good as the world is obviously abound with problems right now. And as a Minnesota transplant who has worked remotely, I’m always looking for ways to connect professionally — that Hack the Gap is with women and non-binary participants is an added bonus.

tech.mn: What has been the most surprising thing to happen so far?

RO: How quickly we can go from a problem to defining and setting out to build a solution. This is the point of a hackathon – constraints are so helpful – but it’s cool to see how a group of strangers can come together with different perspectives and use different skills to make it happen.

tech.mn: Do you feel that you’re learning more about an aspect of development? If so, what?

RO: As someone who has spent most of her career on the strategy side, it’s been educational to see how that gets translated into development. I got to dabble in some of that by creating wireframes and prototypes for our project.

tech.mn: What words of advice do you have for someone thinking about joining in next time? 

RO: Do it! Yes, it’s a commitment of time and energy that you have to be realistic about, but there’s nothing like getting your hands dirty. You get to learn from people you may not have been exposed to before and build something meaningful. We absolutely need development skills, but you can participate without being a developer. Interest and willingness to try things out is a big part of this.