Can librarians hack it in a hackathon? The answer to that question is a resounding yes!!! As a former hackathon librarian participant, I can confidently give you my word that librarians are an asset to any hackathon team.
From April 12th-14th, 2019, I, a health sciences librarian, flew out to Spokane, WA from Seattle, WA to participate in the 2nd Annual Med Hackathon at Washington State University’s (WSU) Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine (ESFCOM). ESFCOM’s 2nd Annual Med Hackathon was a community health hackathon that drew people from all kinds of disciplines from computer engineering to medical librarianship!
The WSU Med Hackathon was a three-day event whose theme this year was tackling behavioral health challenges in rural Washington state with the intent of destigmatizing mental illness. On the first day/night, we listened to a couple of keynote speakers talk about the need for mental health services especially in Washington State and we ended our night with participants pitching their problems and respective solutions to behavioral health challenges. I was going to pitch my idea about creating a mobile app that would deliver cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy (CBT and DBT) to mental health patients, but I heard someone else pitching a similar idea to mine. As a result, I ended up meeting up with this mental health counselor to discuss and develop our overlapping idea even more at the networking event later that evening. Our initial team of two organically grew into a dynamic team of five people; my team had computer engineers, a mental health counselor, a graphic designer, and a health sciences librarian, me!
The beauty of the WSU Med Hackathon is the skill diversity that it encourages and promotes with each participating hackathon team! As someone who knows very little about computer programming compared to a computer engineer, I was able to really leverage my research skills and health sciences background in order to make a meaningful team contribution. Although, I was not able to contribute directly to the computer programming of the CBT/DBT mobile app, our team’s final and competitive product, or to the visual design of the app itself, I was able to contribute in other meaningful ways. For example, in addition to doing all of the product and patent research for my team’s app, I was also able to provide feedback about the overall usability and design of our team’s mobile app. As well, I was able to really apply my instructional and presentation skills by co-authoring a presentation script and co-presenting a 3-minute product pitch, which ultimately determined my team’s fate in this hackathon.
My team worked all day Saturday and into the early morning Sunday on our product. On Sunday, we pitched for three minutes our final product, the CBT/DBT mobile app, to the three hackathon judges. Mid-day, the hackathon winners were announced; it was announced that my team, Project Hope, had won third place for our CBT/DBT mobile app at WSU’s 2nd Annual Med Hackathon. Our third place finishing is proof that librarians as an integral part of a team or in any collaboration is an invaluable asset!