Mentoring at a hackathon can be just as educational as joining a team - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Feb. 15, 2019 4:30 pm

Mentoring at a hackathon can be just as educational as joining a team

UMB's Jim Kucher shares takeaways from his experience mentoring at GiveBackHack Baltimore.

Inside GiveBackHack Baltimore.

(Photo via Twitter)

This is a guest post by Jim Kucher, faculty program manager at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
There is an old saw that says that the teacher learns as much or more than the student.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of serving as a mentor at GiveBackHack Baltimore, and I sure did learn a few things.

In case you missed it, GiveBackHack is a weekend-long event that brings together passionate community members to develop sustainable, technology-based solutions to some of our most pressing social issues. Originated in Columbus, Ohio in 2015, the program came to Baltimore thanks to a team of energetic students and entrepreneurs. Over a 48-hour period, nine projects were built and developed. As a mentor, I not only had a great time, but I learned a few things about this town we call home:

There is a critical mass.

On a day-to-day basis, much of what happens in Baltimore lives in silos, centered around specific schools, specific incubators or specific programs. While there are attempts to bridge these gaps, they have yet to integrate the various resources fully. But at GiveBackHack, 95 people who had never met came together, pitched 40 different ideas, and merged, massaged and manipulated them into models for effective and sustainable social enterprises (in fact, one of the concepts was a digital platform to “sync the city”). So, for the skeptic who says that the silos are too big, the walls too high, I can tell you that for at least 48 hours that was not true.

These folks are fired up.

Not just about specific ideas (which is more typical) but about the process, the camaraderie, and the community. Fired up enough, that the worked through the entire weekend. Fired up enough that there was almost no proprietary concern for protecting ideas between one team and another (which is almost unheard of in typical entrepreneurship spaces). Fired up enough that the energy level Sunday afternoon was just as high as it was Friday night (due in no small part to the tireless efforts of the organizers and facilitators)

Giving Back is bi-directional.

Even as they were figuring out how to give back, participants were also paying things forward. On Saturday afternoon, 20 students from Girls Who Code jumped into the middle of the hackathon, and had a hackathon of their own. And every single one of the teams engaged with the girls, giving them advice and coaching even as the teams themselves were getting advice from the mentors.

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I was lucky enough to be there for the final presentations, and the amount of effort and thought put into these projects in just 48 hours was amazing. Plans are already underway for GiveBackHack Baltimore 2020, and I can’t wait to see what I learn next year.

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