shannon c. mcmullan


A collection of thoughts, discussions, and experiences within the dance community, AEC industry, and yoga land.

My Second Hackathon

In case my website has not clearly iterated the fact that I am a dancer, than here is your confirmation. Throughout my college education I attended a wide variety of classes - technique, production, writing, history - but never once did I take a class on “How to Plan a Hackathon 101” or “Managing a Tech Driven Event for Dummies”. Nobody ever explained the importance of having an abundant supply of extension cables and power strips, or trying to maintain coffee at an acceptable temperature for 30+ hours really is, but apparently it’s life. Somehow, out of all the detours I have made since graduating college, this has been the oddest situation I have found myself entangled.

I work in a team of computational modelers, programmers, engineers, software developers, architects, and other types of technologically advanced rascals. I recently rounded out my second time being the Event Coordinator for the annual AEC Technology Symposium and Hackathon for these tech-types, and if this sounds very high-tech/not-dancing/out-of-my-realm then you are correct. This event is hosted by my team, CORE studio, every year and is truly a sought after event to attend. We have attendees from across the country and even the world attending this four day extravagance of nerdiness (You can read more about the event here). The event starts with a full day of supplementary workshops which allows attendees to develop or learn new skills and processes. The following day is the symposium where we have a (fantastic) lineup of high-industry professionals give presentations about what is currently “cool” in the industry, and the event finishes off with a 27-30 hour hackathon.

The hackathon is where this explanation gets good. Imagine a world with an infinite amount of coffee and snacks, the highest of speeds of WiFi to ensure you never see a loading circle, the human need to have sleep is nonexistent, and you are stuck in a room with 80+ other people who are as equally, if not more, level-10-intense nerdy as you. Because that is a hackathon. Attendees will come into a hackathon with an idea they want to pursue or a set of skills they have to offer and teams are formed to create an application (hopefully one that disrupts the industry) and this is done in a set time frame with the anticipation of awards at the end. We always give out “super nerdy” techy prizes for the top winners!

I know what you’re probably thinking, “Why is she managing this type of event when she’s not even an engineer or knows how to code?” Or, maybe you’re thinking “There’s no way she can do that when she’s never even participated in a Hackathon!” I know you are definitely thinking “This is a weird combination for a dancer to plan a tech event.” Don’t worry, I am thinking all of those things too. I cannot even count how many times, during the event, that I was suddenly overcome with this existential dread of “Who am I and why am I here?”. The venue for the symposium and hackathon was equipped with the most beautiful views of Manhattan and Queens(pictures below); it was the most perfect place to stare out the window and contemplate my place in this life and industry. I have many out of body experiences in my job where I am watching myself explain special structures to someone or describe this new software app my team has just released, and it’s like I do not even recognize who that impostor is. Honestly, I am an impostor. Not only am I an impostor, but I am the perfect impostor. Everybody thinks I’m an engineer or that I know how to code or that I fully understand the concept of machine learning. My real title should be "Master of Buzzwords" because that’s really what I do- I carry conversations solely on buzzwords and I am so good at it. Can I put that on my resume?

Truth be told, disregarding my impostorness, I am the best at organizing, hosting, and managing this event. You could not imagine how much emotional energy I invested into this event, and it was only my second time doing it! I possess all of these skills solely from my dance training. I could not have been able to pull off a successful event without it. I want to list my highly sought after, highly desirable skill set, but I’m not sure I’m ready for all the job offers to come flooding in. If you’re interested, you can email me. However, I want to emphasize the universality of arts training, and how it provides people with the necessary skills and abilities that can be applied across every industry. This is the biggest thing I learned from the Hackathon. If you need proof, this event is proof enough and I am proof enough. I am a technically trained modern dancer, who currently dances with multiple professional companies, and I manage a 200+ person event for the AEC industry (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction).

The theme of this year’s events was, Merging and Emerging: AEC Futures, in which we highlighted current issues in the industry, where we see the future of the industry going, and what we need to do to get there. There were discussions on the future of software, the future of AI and machine learning, the overall future of AEC, and even the future of engineered art. The questions I want to bring out now are:

“Do you have a dancer on your team?”

and “What are you doing to cross your industry with the arts?”

Make sure to check out all past AEC Tech events.

Discussion credits:
"The Future of Software" - Brian Ringley and Andrew Heumann
"The Future of AI and Machine Learning" - Friederike Schuur
"The Overall Future of AEC" - Randy Deutsch
"The Future of Engineered Art" - Reuben Margolin and Folding Enterprises

Cover photo courtesy Jon Taylor