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HACK UCSC 2015 - A Bootstrapping Event


Photo credit: @SCNewTechMeetup

This past Sunday I was part of a 30+ member team of judges who participated in the 2nd annual HACK UCSC. The spirit and vision behind HACK UCSC likely belongs to Doug Erickson, founder of Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp

I volunteered for this year’s event for three reasons:

  1. Support of my community
  2. Desire to see creativity and early innovation in action  
  3. Network and meet local entrepreneurs and Bay Area leaders 

I showed up a few hours before the judging began on Sunday to scope out what remained of the programming teams' creative energy after their two day coding and design marathon. 

Walking into the dining room of the Crown Merrill Cultural Center on the university campus, the place definitely looked lived in with teams of people scattered around the room, coders hunched over laptops their fingers seemingly flying over their keyboards, boxes full of deli sandwiches, bottled water, and snacks available on demand.

Mark Adams, one of HACK UCSC founders was manning the registration desk when I checked in, a UCSC grad who now manages day-to-day operations at Santa Cruz Works a non-profit dedicated to inspiring entrepreneurs and supporting local tech and science startups.

Organized and charming, Mark invited me to wander around and introduce myself to the hackers, but to let the teams know that I wasn’t on official “judge duty” yet. I was on my own as curiosity seeker.

In two hours I was able to sit down with seven different teams, learning about their apps and giving them a chance to practice their pitches. I discovered that more than half of the teams I spoke with had never coded before. Their ideas ran the gamut from an app for skin allergies, monster gamification, caregiver apps and one that aimed to help people get a glimpse into what it feels like to walk in someone else's shoes. 


And the Winners Are...

Read some good write-ups about the event from Paige Welsh, a marine biology major and literature minor at UC Santa Cruz, who penned a couple of articles about the winners for Santa Cruz Tech Beat and Dieter Holger, HuffPost campus editor-at-large published A Clash of Codes: Hack UCSC 2015.


2015 Participation

Although the official stats haven’t been published by the planning team yet, this year’s event appears to have attracted more women programmers (although the number of women-sized T-shirts given away at the event isn’t a solid data point of female participation).

But this year’s event definitely attracted more than the 10 women who participated in 2014 due to an aggressive effort to increase this year’s numbers.  


Event Wish List for 2016

I’ve planned plenty of events and understand the hard work, coordination, and communication that goes into running a successful one. The HACK UCSC planning team have a lot to be proud of this year and what they pulled off with tight budgets and even tighter schedules.

Based on this year’s success, and assuming that HACK UCSC 2016 gets early (and more) funding for what hopefully becomes an annual event, here are five suggestions for next year:

  • Ensure a level playing field—each team needs to have a volunteer mentor assigned to them.
  • Event judges could have used their own coordinator for registration and badging, pre-event training, etc.
  • Tighten up the judging criteria—“somewhat” meeting the criteria was tough to measure.
  • Judging rounds were confusing—our Innovation team judged 2 rounds, but we were expecting to judge three. 
  • Reduce or eliminate single use plastic—introduce reusable bottles.


Photo credit: @Kimonolabs