As a mentor, a question I get often is some flavor of, “Should I go to that hackathon?” or “Will going to that Meetup be a good networking opportunity for me?” This is normally asked by someone who is looking for a job.
My answer comes from some great advice I got many years ago from a friend. At the time, I was thinking about attending meetups for people interested in the Law Of Attraction. In case you’re not familiar, that’s a spiritual belief that’s a cousin of the “power of positive thinking.” The idea is that you can “attract” what you want to you through practice and focus.
I figured if I went to a meetup, I would meet more people like me who were interested in that concept. My friend told me to NOT go to that meetup. Why not?!
She said that the people who are really good at Law Of Attraction are not going to meetups. They’re wherever they are, getting things done, but they’re not going to meetups. I figured naw, somebody who was good with LOA would be at these and I’ll find that person. I’ll just try ONE meetup.
I got to the meetup and people started introducing themselves and speaking. Remember this concept centers around positive thinking. The people who stood up to talk all had hugely negative stories and negative attitudes. One after another, they got up and complained about their lives. I guess they all thought that if they SAID that they’re into LOA, magically everything would start going right for them.
My friend was right. Left early, never attended another one.
Then I noticed the same thing at business events.
If the LOA meetup appears to be the people not really doing LOA (right or at all), then who is at my Startup Networking meetup? Is a very successful, busy startup coming to this bar to meet other startups? No. They are wherever they are, getting things done.
I went to dozens of startup meetups in 2011 and 2012 when my startup was “up and coming.” Who else was there? People who weren’t really off the ground yet. We had released an MVP in 2011 and were on our way to version 1 and our own API in 2012. I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer the people there, and they had nothing to offer me. I stopped going.
I tried a few hackathons thinking HEY they need UX people! I will be a shining star and people will want me as a consultant. Hackathons are mostly about hacking. I found that most people were sure their ideas were great and a UX person would just slow them down. They weren’t sure what to do with me… I don’t code. So what I am doing.
There were no recruiters there. Nobody was looking for awesome UX talent. Nobody stood up and said, “We have open jobs for UX geniuses.” It was all about coding and coders. Never went back.
If you are looking for a job, where are people looking for you?
I get most job and consulting offers off LinkedIn, period. I didn’t have to go to a meetup. I didn’t have to do unpaid work. I didn’t go to a lot of events where nobody noticed me.
OK but wouldn’t designing at a hackathon be good practice?
If you can do some design, sure. The times I tried, the team leader ignored my designs and used his own ideas. So I walked away from those with no portfolio piece. Nothing to show. No new pals.
I Googled “UX Hackathon” and very few seem to exist. One was held in Sydney, one in Berlin, two in Southern California. That’s not much. Maybe we need to organize one here in the Bay Area. But I would say unless you are going to a UX hackathon where your UX skills might be desired and appreciated, I’m not sure what you might find at a standard hackathon.
And if hiring managers, recruiters, and other important people aren’t at that meetup you’re thinking of attending, then what is in it for you?
For design practice, you can stay home and do sample projects.