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Hackathons Change Your Life. Seriously.

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The beauty of a virtual hackathon is that you can still have a life. No need to find childcare, reschedule your dentist appointment or not have time to grocery shop. A virtual hack is all about hacking in your free time!

By Agnes Lam (Founder, CoderCharts) & Pamela Day (Founder, PocketScience Labs)

I know that might sound a bit dramatic, but it is true. Ask anyone who has participated and you will discover that it is like nothing else.

A group of people, often strangers, coming together to make something from nothing, solving problems, working together, pushing their skills – improving their skills, and having a blast.

It can be a bit frustrating if you live outside of a geography which provides a constant stream to choose from. The solution? A virtual hackathon!

I partnered with Microsoft and created a virtual hackathon Windows 8 App-a-thon to celebrate the release of… Windows 8!

What is so fantastic about Windows 8 App-a-thon is that it is virtual. You don’t have to live in Silicon Valley, you don’t have to do it all in one weekend. Registration just opened, submissions begin on August 17 and your last day to submit your winning app is August 26.

Idea people, code hackers and UI designers are welcome as are those who do not fit in any of those categories. Beginners are welcome, as of course are seasoned folks. Once you register you will have access to all of the latest development information for Windows 8 from Microsoft. Teams will also get official technical support from Microsoft in their MSDN developer forums – yep coaching from the source!

How does a virtual hackathon work? Surprisingly similar to the meat world version, without the Red Bull (sorry!)

Step one: Register (you can live anywhere on the planet and to be eligible for a prize you must have a legal US resident on your team.)

Step two: Post your project/Find a team. If you have something you are dying to make for your pc, laptop or tablet? Post your project idea and start recruiting others to join your team. If an idea isn’t burning a hole in your brain browse the teams with openings and join in!

Step three: Team meeting (Skype or Trello work well). This is when you discuss the problem you are solving in detail and how best to solve it. You will also be deciding who will work on what and when, since it is virtual your team won’t necessarily be working at the same time, so communication will be key!

Step four: Well, it is really part of step three, but that was getting too long! Each team will have a page. You can introduce your team members, post videos, post your work so your fan-base (here is our facebook page to get you started!) can download and test – remember 50% of the judging is public vote, so you want to keep us entertained and engaged.

Step five: Hack. Take care of your day-to-day life. Repeat. Yep, the beauty of a virtual hackathon is that you can still have a life. No need to find childcare, reschedule your dentist appointment or not have time to grocery shop. A virtual hack is all about hacking in your free time!

Step six: Submit. August 26! You might want to make sure that task is assigned to a specific person. It would totally suck to make something great and forget to submit!

Hackathons are great opportunities for technical women to not only show off their coding skills, but to learn new tricks and shortcuts from other hackers. For non-technical woman it is a fantastic opportunity to learn about and participate in the development process. Hackathons also provide an excellent ‘hunting ground’ for recruiting technical and design folks for your startup – flipside a great place to show off if you are looking for your next gig.

If you have never participated in a hackathon, I challenge you! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It is a chance for you to claim your seat at the table.

Hackathons change lives. Changed mine. But that is another post.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest bloggers? Leave a message in the comments below.

agnes lamAbout the guest blogger: Agnes Lam co-founded CoderCharts, a website for coders to have fun and improve their skills at the same time. She also co-founded HireBooth, a platform helping companies to be more effective in assessing engineering applicants, with her coder husband. Not a coder by training, Agnes has always been a little nerdy and geeky. Originally from Hong Kong, she has been enjoying the bustling startup scene in Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @agnes_ccharts.

pamela dayAbout the guest blogger: Pamela Day is a Founder at PocketScience Labs. She is an entrepreneur who is solving for social connection, testing to prove if it is possible to harness the energy that is currently used to water fake farm plants, and directing that energy to water each other. Pamela has always been fascinated by the intersection of technology and humans. A native San Franciscan, she believes behind every startup is a village. Follow her on Twitter at @ZibbyZS.