"Hackathons are the best networking you will ever find to meet new developers."
To alumnus Ian MacKinnon, hackathons are no laughing matter. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun.
In the eight years since completing his Master of Mathematics in Computer Science (CS), the Vancouver transplant has participated in nearly a dozen hackathons. In fact, he not only participates in them, he has organized them, created his current startup out of one, and brought one to Vancouver – Comedy Hack Day.
This one-day hackathon has been a success in several U.S. cities. Started in 2012, the event finally crossed the border into Toronto in 2015 and landed in Vancouver in fall of 2016.
The series invites comedians, developers, and designers to come together with the goal of building the funniest app possible. Finalists are showcased before a panel of celebrity judges at a one-of-a-kind comedy show. Feeling strongly that hackathons provide developers an opportunity to flex their creative muscles and, “just build fun stuff,” Ian is excited about the possibilities for these events.
Ian feels that hackathons are great for startups because they encourage developers to disconnect from the all-consuming nature of business and allow them just to innovate. "When you get into business, you become very focused on that,” states Ian, adding that, “Hackathons are the best networking you will ever find to meet new developers. You get to meet people, work with them, and see their abilities.”
And Ian knows what he is talking about.
Ian is co-founder of the startup, Latergramme. Latergramme helps make visual social media marketing easy for consumers by allowing the user to schedule and monitor Instagram posts. The company was developed during a hackathon in 2014 and is Ian’s third startup. It is also his most promising venture with over a $1M in venture capital and more than 400,000 global users, including some of the world's largest and most recognized celebrities, brands, and agencies.
But hackathons are not Ian’s first venture into community building. While an undergrad, Ian served as an orientation director, running orientation activities for the incoming group of freshmen. As an organizer, Ian found the roots of his entrepreneurial calling. “I loved frosh week, getting people engaged. Every director has the chance have their own spin on the culture of math.”
For Ian’s year, they added the ‘black tie’ [version of the pink tie] in recognition of the work being done by orientation leaders. Ten years later, orientation leaders are still sporting the distinctive black tie.
“I would encourage undergrads to get involved in student life. Managing a frosh week can be a great training ground for managing a startup. You have to wear multiple hats, be adaptable, be able to get buy-in from people, and be prepared for crisis.”
During grad school, Ian continued his leadership activities as president of the Graduate Student Association. Under the supervision of Olga Vechtomova, Ian honed his academic focus on information retrieval and search engines, and began collecting lists of journal articles to read and possible research ideas. Graduate studies also taught Ian to ask the question, “What real world problems am I solving with my research?”
Ian still leans on the processes he developed during those years in his work today, especially the cultivated skepticism.
Despite having had internships at established organizations such as Perimeter Institute and Google’s headquarters in Mountainview, ever the risk taker, Ian was awarded his degree on Friday and relocated to Vancouver on Wednesday to work for a startup. He hasn’t looked back.
Ian’s advice for students is simple, “don’t get addicted to a big pay check.”
“It is hard to risk things unless you first learn to live below your means. Less debt means that you can take bigger risks and try crazy stuff. It prepares you to live on a founder's salary.”