What it takes to do great things

I met both of them by accident.

It was during the summer of my freshman year in high school. I was attending a summer camp, but in the meantime, looking for meaningful things to do. That’s when I came across Sean Kim, a senior in high school.

I wanted to build a web app that enables thousands of students from our community to share what they’ve been working on. Sean wasn’t a part of the plan, but rather someone random who happened to be good at a certain tool that I needed for the app. I asked my question, he had the answer.

The conversation could’ve ended there.

He soon joined me on the project. We spent 3 weeks working on that messy web app, launched it as soon as we got it working, created quite a splash only within the first week, and then got left behind with the massive amounts of side projects built by millions of others.

The story could’ve ended there.

4 months later, those of us in Hack Club’s core decided that we need to run a summer hackathon that really embodies who we are as an organization, or, in Zach’s words, “The high school hackathon”.

Sean had been organizing Chicago Hacks, a smaller high school hackathon for students from his area. He wanted to do something more about his event, so we hopped on a call. Our first call involved over 10 students from the community. Everyone was hyped about this amazing event that is going to happen.

But the excitement doesn’t make great things happen. We weren’t assigned detailed tasks nor any specific goals that we can look up to.

2 months later, we had a devastating sync-up call. Realizing that we are over a month behind in progress, we decided to regroup. Then working as the social media person of the organization, I took lead in any marketing efforts (which somehow included rewriting the entire website). This is when I noticed Megan Cui, who took lead in fundraising.

To be honest, I was not expecting someone like her to be able to do much work, neither was I expecting myself to be contributing a whole lot. That thought remained still as I continued on my own deep dive down the drains of event marketing. Megan and I chatted a few times, but I never got to actually know her.

The connection could’ve ended there.

Soon Zach invited both of us onto a call, and he outlined our goals.

Getting 200 signups? “1,000,” he said.

Getting $10,000? “$100,000,” he said.

The largest hackathon in Chicago? “The entire Midwest,” he said.

That’s when the three of us truly connected. We are from three completely different areas with drastically different environments, but we got together for one common reason: to complain about the almost unrealistic goals that Zach has set for us. Impossible, we said.

The legacy could’ve ended there…

July 21st, 2018, the largest high school hackathon was kicked off in the Civic Opera Building in Chicago.

It was an even crazier 24 hours of work. 12 hours before we opened the doors of the event, I figured out that most of our information emails have gone to spam; Sean realized that our check-in system is no longer working; and Megan is down in Cincinnati, waiting for the bus that will take dozens of high schools from her area to Chicago.

A lot of unexpected things happened. You wouldn’t want to imagine waking up at 6am in the morning, getting a phone call telling you that an hour of train ride away from you there’s a delivery guy at the gate of the venue with tons of catering boxes coffee; or that you forgot to print the receipt from a purchase at the Staples across the Loop and their store closes in 30 minutes; or that your volunteers are racing down a hallway with glass walls on $500 rolling chairs…

I left the event half dead, and the relationship could’ve ended there.

4 months later we gathered in Baltimore, Maryland to run the first open hackathon at a local private school; and a few days ago Megan spent an incredible weekend with me right before her grad party driving another derailing event back onto the right track.

It all could’ve ended a lot earlier, but it didn’t.

So what exactly does it take to make great things happen?

You can have endless energy that you’re willing to devote into your projects. You can be willing to spend over 50 hours a week into one program that you love.

You can have a super enthusiastic coach that kicks your ass so hard that you start to feel depressed over the unrealistic goals. You can have a mentor that sets your goals to 10 times higher than they should’ve been to motivate you.

A passion can be developed. A mentor can be connected.

But a few partners who truly share your passion may never come into your life. I’m lucky to have been able to meet them both in mine.