There were bags and bags of potato chips around. A container full of soda and a seemingly never-ending supply of ice around each corner of the room. The floor was littered with bean bags of all different shapes, sizes and colours, like oversized candy pillows.
As I step into the room, friends greeted me left and right. “Hey Pikaland!” they’d shout as they gave me a fist bump. It’s a place where your Twitter handle’s your first name and other things immaterial slide to the wayside. Race, gender and language dissipates: leaving behind only the love of ideas and the technology that can bring them to life. It was a place where fingers worked hard to keep up with the stream of code that pours from one’s mind.
It was 2011 and a hackathon (a hacking marathon) was in full swing. But I wasn’t a hacker.
I came to the event, knowing full well that my coding skills were amateurish at best, and riddled with problems at worst. But that didn’t deter me at all. I knew these amazing bunch of people from monthly meetups that brought together people from the tech industry. This included everyone from big corporations to small start-ups; from entrepreneurs to family businesses – all looking for a way to leverage technology to help them navigate this new era we all live in. The hackathon was one of the many events that brought them all together to work on ideas that could change the community, or the world for the better.
I saw a friend sitting in a booth with 3 other guys, and scored an invitation to come join them. I’m an illustrator, I said – and they all remarked that it was incredibly cool that I get to work with my hands. I told them that they’re doing exactly the same thing – the only difference was the output; everything else was generated through good old-fashioned brain power.
We talked a lot during my time at the hackathon – we talked about business, competition and how developers find freelance jobs (oDesk was a good place to find talent, and elance.com can sometimes come up short). I got myself a Dribbble invite and learned that one of the guys at the table worked for Envato. We talked tech, but we also talked a lot about business, and life as an entrepreneur. The room was 98% guys and I was just one of the few girls who participated – but I wasn’t made to feel any less competent. Instead, I was celebrated as a wild card, a secret weapon that the group had over the rest. It was tremendous fun.
Though our group worked through the night, we didn’t win. It was a dating app called Icebreaker that offers introverted, shy tech guys topics that they could talk to girls about. At first I was a little perplexed by the idea, but then I came to understand why they might need such a thing to kick start a conversation (remember, this was back in the day when the term introvert hasn’t blown up yet!) I contributed quite a bit to the cause: I came up with most of the topics and lines for the app and vetoed the ones that didn’t fit (or would most likely scare girls away), and an illustration for it as well (boy, were they tapping into my strengths!)
All in all – I had a great time. Why?
- I didn’t let the fear of not belonging stop me from being there. (remember, I could count the number of girls on my hand, in a room full of guys)
- I didn’t feel bothered that I wasn’t adequately skilled in programming – I had other skills to offer
- I genuinely had an interest in tech and I wanted to learn more by immersing myself head on in this intense event! plus;
- I’m a geek at heart
Why am I telling you this?
I wanted to remind you that you’re more than just an illustrator or an artist.
Your skill set isn’t just limited to what you can physically and technically achieve. Drawing, painting, and illustrating may be your output – but what matters very much is the input too: the things you read, the people you meet and talk to; and the experiences you collect along the way. The combination of all these inputs manifests in an incredible process that makes you truly unique, along with the output you produce.
We’re all more than just a label we put on ourselves – we’re complicated and unpredictable – a giant tangle of strings that come from many different sources. Each string mingles, crisscrosses and even blends into others to form new strands – of personalities, knowledge and beliefs – that further defines who we are. We’re not just one ball made up of one homogenous string.
So let’s do a bit of an exercise: let’s put the term artist aside for a while – what else do you consume? What else do you do? What else do you know? What topics do you love? What defines you as a person? Share them with me in the comments below!
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