Recently I have taken on an ambassador role with ShowCode. This is an opportunity I am very excited about, and I wanted to share the story of how I initially met the ShowCode team and why I am excited about being involved in their future.
The story starts in 2020 when I worked for American Express as a graduate software engineer. During this time, I was attending hackathons up and down the country as a sponsor. American Express had an excellent habit of sending graduates to these events. This made us more approachable as we were of a similar age to the attendees. It was a significant first step, but the engineer in me always wanted to iterate and improve our brand.
I was on a mission to make us stand out as a company, and we were having a lot of success due to one simple change that I had introduced. You see, most sponsors use their five-minute slot at the beginning of the hackathon to throw graduate schemes and job offers at the attendees. Their pitches almost always involved text-heavy slides that would send attendees to sleep before the hackathon started. I wanted to combat this by shifting the conversation away from American Express and more to what the attendees needed at that moment. I used 95% of our time slot giving a presentation called "Elevate your hack".
The talk was jam-packed full of tips and tricks to help attendees perform best at that event. Not only did this show a bit of care, but it also demonstrated that the present American Express team were engineers, not recruiters.
The presentation was specifically designed not to have any text at all. Instead, I drew little animations on the slides to keep the audience entertained.
All these animations were made using FlipaClip, a free app on the App Store. I don't normally give software reccomendations but this iPad app is worth a go if you want to create animations that are simple but effective.
See FlipaClip on the App store
In February every year, Imperial College's DocSoc hosts ICHack - the largest student-run hackathon in the country and my favorite event of the hackathon season (this is partially biased, having won it back in 2018 with Spidentify). I was particularly excited to share my presentation here, and I am happy to report it went down a treat.
One thing that did catch my attention during the opening ceremony was another sponsor, Will Knight from ShowCode, who demonstrated a similar philosophy in his speech. The stand next to American Express was ShowCode, and I got talking to Will during the afternoon downtime.
It was clear that Will was passionate about improving a candidate's experience with the software engineering hiring process (the acquisition of tungl (a tech assessments platform) the week before proved that). We had mutually aligned goals of improving the experience of young software engineers at the beginning of their journey.
When I left ICHack, I went with nothing more from ShowCode than a LinkedIn request from Will. But there can be great power in a LinkedIn connection...
The Power of LinkedIn
During the next half year, I was very active on LinkedIn. I had recently adopted the concept of learning in public, and almost every week, I posted the improvements I made to my website. Then on the first of September, I suddenly saw a significant spike in traffic, traffic unrelated to anything I had done. Though we hadn't communicated since ICHack, Will must have been watching because I received this message:
This was the first organic result of my learning in public and was a great source of validation for me. It gave me the motivation to keep doing it. More and more things like this came up and it wasn't long until Will reached out again:
Athena Hack is Europe's largest all-women/non-binary hackathon. To get an opportunity to speak there and inspire the future generation was mind-blowing to me! What was even better is I was given free rein to talk about whatever I wanted. I created a talk called "Sam's Front-end Survival Kit" that covered the history of the web before diving into an introduction to front-end development. To this day, it's the longest talk I have ever given.
You can see the talk in full below:
As you view this, please go easy on me! This was right at the beginning of my speaking career - I like to think I have improved since then. If you want to judge for yourself then scroll to the bottom of this post.
My engagement with ShowCode had been entirely in a mentor capacity up to this point. But with Covid still looming, there was one thing I had a lot of - time. So, when I saw ShowCode advertising their Level Up Society Hackathon, I thought it was the perfect time to get back into hackathons as an attendee. This hack jumped out at me for two reasons, the theme of gamification and the £5,000 first prize. I entered with a friend and colleague, Yannis Panagis, and together we created "Dominate.codes", the fastest way to improve your computer science knowledge.
One thing that I have always believed is that the hackathon ideas that are the best are those that solve a pain point that you have personally experienced. If you have experienced the issue, then your passion will shine through in your solution. In this particular scenario, Yannis and I wanted to tackle the pain of practicing for a coding interview—a long, slow, monotonous task. To do this, we created an online multiplayer game that challenges you to solve computer science questions against time and other players in real-time. We figured that by adding a competitive element, we would make the act of learning fade into the background even though you were doing it constantly while using the tool.
You can view the submission document or watch the video below:
We ended up taking first place in this hack, and the hackathon was the catalyst for me to get back into the genre. I realized that hackathons could be a great way to earn money, and it pushed me to attend the eight events over the following year and mentor many more. Without this first trigger, I don't know if I would have ever written "The Hackathon Survival Guide" and had soo much success in the space!
I assisted teams as much as I could. As an unofficial mentor at the event, I wandered around the team tables offering knowledge, facilitating ideation sessions, and teaching newbies how to code. I took the freshly-printed Hackathon Survival Guide prototype out for a spin and let participants try and find their answers using the book. It was a great source of validation and also gave me some notes of what to include in a second version.
I loved every minute of it. When I heard ShowCode were running a second hack that same year, I didn't wait to get asked:
My unofficial mentoring hadn't gone unnoticed, and it was now official! That was how I found myself with a ten-minute slot in the opening ceremony of Athena Hack. A ten-minute slot where I was not representing a company but, instead, could do exactly what I aimed to do back in 2020 - educate and inspire people to do their best. Take a look below:
Being an Ambassador
Given my shared history with ShowCode and its direct effect on my passion, it should come as no surprise that when they asked me if I would like to be an ambassador, I said yes.
The actual role description is to be a "role model who influences those around them with a contagious confidence." What this means in practice is that you will see more of the same from me—speaking at events, hosting workshops, mentoring at hackathons, and teaching the next generation to code. And I'll be doing all of that with a smile on my face.
Here you can see my most recent engagement as ambassador where I spoke about using your engineer skills to earn extra cash:
P.S This is the owl mascot of the ambassador program that I have taken the liberty of animating!