7 Things I Learned At My First Hackathon

7 Things I Learned At My First Hackathon

Written by Ingrid Hawkins

NetworksWomen Who Code

Original post published here

I attended the 2nd annual Women Who Code Atlanta Hackathon the weekend of Oct 13. This was my first hackathon. I really had no clue what a hackathon was or what it truly entailed. As I continued to network via tech meetups and conferences, the common consensus was that I needed to participate in a hackathon. And when I won tickets to the WWCAtlanta Hackathon, I was all set!

According to Techopedia.com, a hackathon is a gathering where programmers collaboratively code in an extreme manner over a short period of time. Hackathons are at least a few days – or over a weekend – and generally no longer than a week. While working on a particular project, the idea is for each developer to have the ability and freedom to work on whatever he/she wants.

Although that’s probably a common definition, it’s not always all about coding. Over the course of the weekend I learned a lot about myself. While working in groups with strangers, learning a new coding language, perfecting business development skills and gaining more insight on how tech startups run, I grew exponentially. Here are my 7 key takeaways from my first hackathon:

1) It doesn’t matter how much you know about coding or tech… You can still add value.
There were women who were very seasoned developers, a lot of college students, several non-tech ladies as well as 1st time participants. Everyone seemed to find their strength and showcase it.

2) If you have an idea… present it… it won’t hurt a thing
It’s just an idea. You might as well share it. Out of the many ideas pitched, I don’t think any of them received zero votes. They were all very intriguing concepts. I even pitched one of my app ideas although I admit it took some convincing from my best friends via text and some fellow hackathon attendees. I hadn’t planned to pitch anything but we all have ideas regarding problems that we’d like to solve so i really just swallowed my pride…..or maybe that was just anxiety and stepped up to the line to pitch. When I was done with my pitch, I received a lot of encouragement and cheers and suggestions.

 3) Ask questions… a lot of questions…. about anything.
The one thing about asking questions is that it helps the person asking as well as the person answering. You have to be able to succinctly ask questions to keep your team on track and you also have to be able to respond to questions asked of you especially if it’s being asked by a hackathon judge. It’s true, the only dumb questions are the ones you don’t ask!

4) Celebrate your small victories
This is big. Many times you are heads down, Googling, trying new code or trying to learn GIT commands for the millionth time but when that one line of code just magically works….it’s important to just celebrate. It’s really confirmation that you CAN do this!!!

5) Here’s a chance to do something you aren’t accustomed to doing on a regular basis
I haven’t worked on a group project since graduate school back in 2004-2005. My current position is primarily as an individual contributor with my own work. The weekend’s experience was refreshing to be able to work in a small group, of women at that! We all had very unique personalities but so much to contribute. The willingness to help each other learn and perfect skills was amazing to me. My mind is now more open to working in groups.

6) Don’t give up. If your idea doesn’t place in the top 3, that only means you’ve got more work to do to perfect your idea.
What was so great about this hackathon was that after the top 3 were announced, the judges actually took the time to answer questions from the remaining 5 teams. They provided feedback on obstacles, ways to improve, alternate direction and just sage advice. That opportunity made me think of things that never crossed my mind during the weekend.

7) Stretch, eat, take breaks, laugh, sing, dance… whatever you need to do to be an asset to your team.
I’m a big proponent of self care. Although the weekend was intense my teammates and I definitely took the time to take care of ourselves even if we had to nudge one another.

I just want to thank Women Who Code Atlanta for putting together an outstanding event. It was my first hackathon but now I think I’m ready for my next one!