Photo shared by Betsy Weber

Photo shared by Betsy Weber

At the Code Day Phoenix event in November 2015, Isos Technology helped Co+Hoots Foundation* provide scholarships to girls interested in attending Code Day Phoenix. That’s a big deal for me, as I was inspired to pursue a career in technology because of a computer scientist I met as an intern. She taught me that the best measure of success in technology is how well we work together.
*Note Code Day Phoenix has become Code Day Arizona and is now being managed under the StartupAZ Foundation.
Code Day Phoenix (now Code Day Arizona) has regularly been one of the biggest and certainly the most diverse Code Day events in the country. It’s not just the diversity that makes it so fun, it’s the insanity of trying to go from “no idea” to a completed working program in 24 hours. I love the energy and the enthusiasm the participants bring. It’s the spontaneous collaboration that really keeps me excited about the event.

How did I get started helping so much with Code Day Phoenix?

Before I started working for Isos Technology, I was a solo entrepreneur. It’d been about five years since I had been a full-time employee. One of the advantages of working for yourself is that you get to decide how to spend your work time. I’ve always been a big fan of giving back to the community.

Coding has become a social vocation.

A lot of people buy into what I call the single coder myth. Like any effective myth, it’s a very good story. I’ll admit I’m not above its power. I’ve invoked this myth myself on occasion (though it’s been a while).
The story goes something like this…any new exciting software was created by a single coder who sat down and wrote the whole thing up. More specifically, this single coder took it from a nothing to something that just works all by themselves.
People who understand how software development gets done realize that it’s a metaphor. The nearest thing I’ve ever seen to a real-life, verifiable “single coder” success story is when a specific software developer had a really valuable insight that changed the direction of a project, and they where able to get a proof of concept up-and-running very quickly.
There are, however, numerous examples of the myth. My favorite is the character Flynn in the TRON movies.
My experience working with software development teams has totally reinforced the value of collaboration I learned so early in my career. Individual people create better and more interesting applications only, and especially, if the team members actually share their different perspectives with the team. For me, the idea of having a high level of diversity in a 24-hour coding marathon is an absolute requirement.

Programmers changed coding to a social activity over about a 20-year period.

I’m older now, and when I started working as a software developer it was a very isolated activity. We had to go into big buildings and show our badges to everyone and we were given access to really big machines that would turn our code into running programs. Then micro-computers, or personal computers, came along and changed all that.  But the new hardware alone wasn’t enough for us to change software development into a primarily social activity. It’s taken about 20 years and the open source software movement to really completely kill the isolated mindset we worked under in the days of the mainframe computer.
That’s because we, not a single developer but all of the coders working together, needed to use the microcomputer to change the social dynamic.

The focus on collaboration is what makes Code Day special.

Most 24-hour coding events feel, or explicitly are, coding competitions and–for me anyway–that reinforces the single coder myth. There are many other people who care deeply about software development as a valuable activity who don’t understand the point of hackathons. Here’s a really good write up that I almost completely agree with.  Show me how to actually create code as a contributing member of a team, and I’ll really understand what successful software development feels like. I don’t mind having awards, if they give your team something to reach for. If the awards are too valuable, or if the hackathon is primarily a competition, well I don’t think those kinds of hackathons are as enjoyable.
This is because the idea that you can create a meaningful product in 24 hours is just bunk, and all the coders know it. Events that combine a programming hackathon with funding for your product, move the focus away from learning how to collaborate as a team. This is because, if you’re primary motivation is to “win,” you enter the event without being open enough to working with new people or in a new way. I see folks come to hackathons with almost the entire application they are going to build figured out before the event even started. When the focus is on winning, that’s fine, everyone does things like that to win, but when the focus is on learning or exploring, it really gets in the way.
What I love about going to a hackathon is the social and collaborative activity that results in working as a member of a team that’s trying to get something built. Something we just thought of together. There are other kinds of events for teams to create and pitch product ideas in 24 hours. They are really fun and worthwhile. They just aren’t hackathons I really enjoy because they just reinforce something I already know how to do.
I think this is really important for Code Day Arizona, because the focus is on getting our youth exposed to what it feels like to create software. They don’t really know there are hackathons that are very collaborative, vs. hackathons that are very competitive. Because the students are learning about hackathons for the first time, Code Day is wise to stay focused on the collaboration, because it just works better for the attendees.
As a result, the kids feel more comfortable and are better informed on how software teams actually work together.

When is the next Code Day?

The next Code Day event is February 13-14.