If you were living under a rock this weekend (or not checking in on our #52 Causes), then you probably missed out on Houston’s annual Hackathon. The good news is that we got you covered. The bad news is that you missed out on some serious cool points.

The Hackathon is one of the best and most collaborative civic celebrations of the year. People from diverse backgrounds, varying interests and a hodgepodge of technical skills come together to work on projects with the goal of impacting the city at large.

This year, projects ranged from mapping recreational basketball courts throughout the city to fighting sex trafficking to developing a resource app for homeless LGBT youth. All of the presentationswhich can be viewed on DevPost—were focused, thoughtful and entirely designed to serve the people in our communities.

People all over the city came together to make things happen—to solve big problems and tackle big opportunities. At Black Sheep, this excites us. Every year, we get high on that Hackathon spirit. But year after year, we get the same questions, “How does it work? What do YOU get out of it? How can I participate if I’m not a developer?”

More good news! There’s something for everyone and always something to learn. And we learned a few new things this year we’d like to share. Take a look. We hope you’ll be motivated to join us next year and put your talents to work.


You have skills, whether you know it or not.

Most people think of hackathons as super exclusive events for nerdy people who never leave their basements. Turns out, hackathons are for nerds of all kinds, whether you’re a developer or not! You don’t need to have any knowledge of coding to join a team and participate in a meaningful way. Hackathons need designers, copywriters, project managers, strategic thinkers and people who understand policy, data and social issues, too. If you know how to take an abstract concept and figure out how to apply it to real life, that’s just as valuable as being able to create a website or app. Chances are high that you’ll leave the hackathon with new skills, too.

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Sometimes you have to pivot.

Going into the hackathon, especially if it’s your first one, can be intimidating. You have to make new friends (ugh!), pitch your idea to a room full of people (ack!) and find a way to make your idea come to life (oooh!). It’s not as scary as it may seem, but it requires everyone to listen to each other, be open to all the possibilities and be agile. Sometimes you come to the table with one idea, but because of its scope, limited access to data or any other number of factors, you have to change course. Sometimes ideas shift and change so that you have something to present in the time you’re given. You may ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve with my idea? What is the question I am hoping to answer? What is the problem I want to solve for?” These questions can help you and your team better define the idea, and then find a place to start, resulting in a more focused and attainable project.



People are awesome and anything is possible!

Most people aren’t willing to spend the better portion of their weekend with a bunch of strangers working on a group project, which sounds a little like a college nightmare. Not only were the attendees genuinely interested in collaboration, they really, truly believe in what they were working on, even if they had no prior knowledge of the issue. You might be the tech-challenged person with the idea of mapping out homelessness because you understand the policy and advocacy opportunities, and you can team up with people who want to learn about the issue AND help you build the map. (Bonus: they all add each other on Facebook and start a group chat so you can stay in touch and continue building your baby project together.) More of this in everyday life, please!



We can all be way more productive.

Aside from its passionate and collaborative spirit, the second more remarkable aspect of the Hackathon is how much gets done in under 48 hours. You show up, you don’t know most of the people on your team, you have a half-baked idea, and a day and half later you have a working demo of your project and something to continue building upon. If we’ve learned anything it’s that we are all way smarter, capable and productive than we admit to ourselves.



Beware of werewolves.

Only the coolest hackers know what we’re talking about. You’ll just have go next year if you want in on the joke. Or to know if it’s a joke at all.



Seriously, though. Go look at the the projects that came from our very own community this weekend. Marvel at what is happening in our city. Check out the issues we can tackle together when we work across sectors and focus more on purpose and less on profit.