Sugar Smacks, beer and friends
When Gina Lujan moved back home to Sacramento, the 40-year-old tech enthusiast was surprised to discover the city lacking in a ready-made start-up community. So the mother of six co-founded Hacker Lab, a collaborative work space and tech incubator. That was in February, and in the months since, the company’s grown into a larger space and developed a full calendar of classes, meet ups and hackathons. The latter are marathon start-up pitch sessions designed not just as a way to award seed money to the most promising concepts, but also as a means for techies to forge friendships with like-minded collaborators. In that spirit, Hacker Lab will host a 30-hour Cereal Hack starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, November 10. Lujan took a break from picking out boxed breakfast nutrition to talk about Sacramento’s growing hacker-makers, beer and industry sexism.
How did Hacker Lab come about?
When I lived in Berkeley [Calif.], I had a co-working space, and it was awesome. There were start-up [tech] people who came in, whom I befriended, and we started doing events. When I moved back to Sacramento, I was looking for some [similar] start-up excitement in tech, but I didn’t find anything. I tried visiting other co-working spaces, and then I finally just put an ad on Craigslist looking for other enthusiasts and met my co-founder, [Charles Blas]. I’m more on the development and business side, and he’s more of a hacker-maker type.
What’s a “hacker-maker”?
A person who builds things and hacks solutions—you know, electronics and robotic projects and things made with surfboards.
How did you build the community?
We got our building and thought it’d be cool. … Then, we did our first meet up, and 100 people came out. The next time, there were 200 people, then 300 and then more than 500 people.
We had our first hackathon in June. It was a great success. … By that time, we’d outgrown our tiny space, and we needed something much bigger, so we found our new space [in Midtown].
So, what happens at a Cereal Hack?
People meet, start off with a pitch and try to get other people enthusiastic [about it]. Then, people break into teams—there are 10 to 15 people to a team—and everyone huddles in their own space. There’s lots of energy in the room; it’s very competitive. We also have experts leading tours and walking around, talking about best practices.
But where does the cereal come in?
(Laughs.) It’s kind of a stereotype that hackers work all night and don’t really eat—they just eat constant bowls of cereal. So it’s kind of a joke.
Do you actually have cereal at your hackathon?
[At] the last one we had tons of cereal—we got it just for kicks. There were Sugar Smacks and CornPops—all the sugary stuff.
So this isn’t exactly a Kashi GoLean or granola kind of crowd?
We should have that [kind of cereal]. Last time, we had a lot of people say we should have more healthy food. We actually have a lot of healthy hackers.
What are other stereotypes about hackers?
That they have no personality, that they’re anti-social—that isn’t true. Our community is built on a social culture. We drink a lot of beer!
Do people have stereotypical ideas about you because you’re a woman in what’s traditionally thought of as a male-dominated industry?
I’ve had people ask, “Who’s the founder? What’s his name?” I’ve had someone automatically assume I was second in command because I’m a woman. Once, during a presentation, someone even asked if they were boring me with tech stuff, and did I want to talk about colors instead.
Wow, that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so maddening.
I was so taken aback, I think I just stared at him.
We’re still in the middle of building our [new] space, [and] we’re also focusing on education. Our mission is community, ventureship and education. … It’s all about more opportunity for jobs. … Our goal is to make it bigger and make friends and do projects.