How a Hackathon Changed My Life

by Derek DeHart







This post was originally published on Medium, by Derek DeHart summarizing the impact participating in GiveBackHack has had on his life mindset.

On March 30, 2017, the idea of “social entrepreneurship” wasn’t really on my radar. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that I had few entrepreneurial aspirations in general. I had a job; I had some hobbies; I attended some professional meetups. It was all…pretty standard.

Then, on March 31, GiveBackHack came along and punched me in the face. In a good way. In a “get off your ass and do something” sort of way.

And now, throughout the past year, I’ve felt a little like I just woke up.


I’ve spent most of my professional life in the call center industry. Between a soul-sucking stint in outbound telemarketing and closing that chapter of my career as a Product Manager for a call center software company, fifteen of my working years contributed to the bottom line of other businesses trying to lower the costs of interacting with their customers.

Simply put, my job was to help businesses make more money.

As I hopped from position to position — over a dozen, in fact — nothing really stuck. Some of the jobs fizzled into boredom, but many offered exciting challenges to tackle and brilliant, vibrant people with whom to tackle them. But there was always something naggingly unfulfilling about the work.

A few years ago I finally realized the problem:

I just don’t give a shit about helping businesses make more money.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with businesses making more money, but, in all of my time in the call center industry, I just couldn’t find a purpose beyond that bottom line.

So I left.

I went on sort of a sabbatical, doing my best to immerse myself in the culture of Columbus. My stint in Product Management had stoked my passion for software development, so I went to technology talks, meetups, and networking events to try to get a lay of the land.

It was amazing and a little shocking to find such a thriving tech community right under my nose, made easily accessible mostly through the auspices of Techlife Columbus and its sponsors. I can’t remember how, in 2016, I heard of GiveBackHack, but I assume now that it was through one of their newsletters.

I didn’t go to that one, although I wish I had. I’d have known a year earlier what I know now.


By February of 2017, I’d been working for a software consulting company for about a year, using consulting as an opportunity to figure out where I fit into the world, still without quite hitting the mark. When the event notice for GiveBackHack 2017 hit Facebook, I bought my ticket immediately.

I had no idea what I was signing up for, if I’m being completely honest. I’d never been to anything like a hackathon or a startup weekend, and, being mostly connected to the business side of technology and devoid of anything but the most rudimentary software development skills, I really wasn’t sure how I’d contribute.

Regardless, I knew it would be something different — something with purpose. I mean, just read the description from the Facebook event and tell me you’re not even a little intrigued:

The goal of the weekend is to bring together community leaders, designers, developers, and other concerned citizens to create solutions that will help make a lasting social impact.

Yes. I’ll have some of that, please.

If you want to know what the experience was like for me, you can read all about it here:

But beyond the power of the weekend, there was some kind of lasting imprint on my psyche, like some social entrepreneurial hoodoo that had somehow opened my eyes to yet another vibrant ecosystem hiding in plain sight in Columbus.

As it turns out, there are scores of people in Columbus who want to be in the business of good, who want their professional lives and purpose to be intrinsically entwined.

As it also turns out, I’m one of them.


Now, almost a year later, I’ve become what I guess I would call a social enterprise geek.

I left my consulting job and went to work for a company whose mission is to help people live healthier lives. I meet with nonprofits and entrepreneurs almost every single week to try to find ways I can help. When people talk to me about their business ideas or some problem they’ve identified, I steer them toward sustainable social impact.

I find myself constantly thinking about purpose.

It’s kind of funny: one of the opening talks of GiveBackHack was from Dan Rockwell of Big Kitty Labs. He led with an assertion that everyone has this entrepreneurial itch they need to scratch. I remember rolling my eyes internally at the time, thinking it was all a bit dramatic and that I really had no such itch. I was just checking out this random event. I didn’t even have a tingle.

Well, damn it, Dan, I guess you were right.

I do have that itch, and scratching it has propelled me into a new worldview that has given me opportunities to meet and work with some of the most incredible people making Columbus one of the most incredible cities in the United States today. Interestingly enough, Dan says in his write-up:

Give Back Hack is really life accelerator.

He’s not kidding.


A few weeks ago, I read this quote in The Startup Way by Eric Ries:

Genius is widely distributed, but as of yet, opportunity is not. As more and more people are given the chance to try their hand at entrepreneurship, the world will never be the same.

He’s right, and just imagine if we could apply that widely-distributed genius more to social problems as much as we apply it to economic ones.

I think a lot about trying to figure out what the biggest, most imminent problem is in Columbus that we can try to tackle in an economically sustainable way. Is it access to clean water? Poverty? Income inequality?

What if the biggest problem is that we just don’t have enough social enterprises tackling these issues? What would happen if more and more people are given the chance to try their hand at social entrepreneurship? What would the world look like, then?

And I think that’s what GiveBackHack and the ecosystem that surrounds it is all about: lowering the barriers, spreading awareness, and providing entrepreneurs a true launchpad for social impact.

Beware: if you go to one of their events — and you really should — your brain might just be rewired like mine.

But I promise you’ll be in good company.

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