Imagination. It’s my favourite thing to see at a hackathon and the most important quality you can have working in tech. Every time I tell hackers this it raises eyebrows. Eng Hacks at the University of Waterloo was no exception.

Many of the young people I meet at these hackathons are looking for advice. They’re at two stages of life: just entering University and trying to find out who they are, or in their final year getting ready for the workforce.

They aren’t looking for help getting a job because, frankly, they don’t need it. As CTV News pointed out when they interviewed Zack recently, about 90% of engineering grads land a job immediately after graduating.

What they want to know is how to have an amazing career. How to do the truly disruptive, world-changing work that leaves this planet in a bit better shape than they found it and gets people seeing things in a new way.

Well, that, and they usually want help hacking the Myo armband.

To foster disruption I always tell them the same thing: cultivate imagination. Take cues from how artists work and think and take your creative self seriously. Your technical skills are already strong, and university will only make them stronger. Nurturing imagination is something you have to do for yourself.

Working with the Myo armband is amazing practice. I’ll ask “how many commands can you input with the Myo armband?” They’ll usually say five, since the device recognizes five gestures. I tell them to guess again.

They’ll come back with ten or eleven, saying they forgot that you can roll your fist, or use the up or down motion of your arm. I send them back to the well a second time.

It’s usually a few minutes later that they realize the true answer is pretty much incalculable. When you combine motion with gesture, it’s practically an infinite number of commands. You could grab something with your fist and move it five inches to the right or ten inches to the right and do completely different things. You could do one command moving your hand upwards with your fingers spread, and another with the same motion making a fist. You could make it so simply *placing *your hand in a region of space gives a command to a device. You can do almost anything with the Myo armband. The limit is your imagination.

I tell them to think of hackathons as imagination gym, and to go to as many as possible. I tell them I hope to see them next time. I usually do.

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