So I got into this long conversation with my co-leader of Hack Club & CodeDay a while back. We're graduating, and although we have already found the succeeding generation of leaders for next year, we are starting to become concerned with these programs' futures: What comes next? What will these programs look like? Who's going to be leading them? Will they continue to grow?
Truth be told, yes, we really shouldn't be concerned about all this. After all, that's more than one and a half years from now.
3 years ago, we barely knew each other, but we somehow got introduced and started working together to create a coding club. Soon, the project became bigger than just a simple club – after recruiting a small team of club officers, we joined Hack Club, an international network of coding clubs led by students like us, and we started events like CodeDay and ran a series of smaller, in-school activities.
It certainly did not feel like we were doing a ton of things back then, but now we're looking back at it, all of us have been dedicating an enormous amount of energy and efforts into making these programs possible, apart from our own academic work. Throughout the process, we've collected experiences and resources after almost burning hours and hours of time. That's exactly why we really hoped programs like CodeDay can not only continue, but can continue to grow after we graduate – we don't want to see these time investments going to waste.
On a personal level, I also really wanted students from our school to continue building these cool projects. My high school is highly competitive, and with that competitiveness comes a lot of labels: "try-hards", "nerds", etc. That's not all there is to learning, and that's not all it means to be good at learning.
I know this may sound selfish, but if there's any progressive methods of learning like CodeDay and Hack Club growing in the area, I want these programs to be run by students of our school, because I know that they're totally capable of running these awesome programs, and they can be the progressive force to lead the movements.
Running a hackathon, a Hack Club, or even an organization like Execute Big is no "hard" task. Frankly, there's not much high-level thinking involved in starting these programs (until you start to think about sustainability, which is a long-term thing) – anyone, regardless of skill levels, can do it.
But one important thing about running these programs, or rather, most non-academic programs in high school (or even some collegiate programs, presumably) is that you will really have to be willing to put in the huge amount of efforts required, to not only simply run the program, but to run an amazing program that you would eventually be proud of.
To be a leader, you have to do the heavy-lifting, and you have to be genuinely interested in doing so. When all else fails, you are the only one who can bring everything back on track.
Handing off a program to a new generation of leaders is hard, because while the responsibilities can very easily be passed on, giving away the pride of "I created and grew this program" is almost impossible. Without such pride, the next generation of leaders will be running a skeleton without a soul. They're only keeping the program alive, yet not actually living its best life.
Pay very close attention to the "pride" part – it is crucial, so crucial that a lot of experienced leaders tend to miss it completely when handling leadership transition.
Realizing these things, I've decided to look at this "pessimistically". I don't always look at things this way, but for leadership transitioning, there's not much better I can do.
The wand chooses the wizard, remember...
Once in every few years does a high school find someone willing to spend the majority of their free time to create a program that would benefit the community. A program is simply a tool – it's a wand that makes the magic of coding, of community, of entrepreneurship, happen. It converts the creativity, the energy, and the leadership talents of the student leaders into the tangible impact that benefits the entire community. But the wizard does not choose the wand, no – the wand always chooses the wizard. A great program (whether it currently exists or not) will find its equally great leader to flourish.
The Elder Wand, notably the most powerful want that has ever existed, failed to accommodate Voldemort at the end because it does not belong to him. Similarly, a well-established program, when being placed under the control of a new leader, while still operational, may not be able to reach its full potential.
Exceptions happen, but this is likely inevitable.
Wands are only as powerful as the wizards who use them...
Not every program stays alive or stays alive in its current form. Things change – resource, environment, and even the "industry" itself. We have seen programs like PennApps, one of the nation's oldest collegiate hackathons, basically changing the entirety of its well-established structure, and I'm sure that more will eventually follow. But hackathon or not, it's just a format. A great program is never only defined by its format.
It's like natural selection – the fittest of programs that finds the most suitable leader in the current environment will prosper, and the rest of them will eventually come to a close.
If they do die out, don't pity them. They lived, and they brought impact to their communities. Now, the resources that were once used to create these programs are just somewhere else, cooking something even better.
But wizards, do remember, a great wand does not simply find you. Go seek a wand that best expresses you, and use its power to change the world.
This is the second article of the Dilemma series. See more: #hackathons