How to Survive Your First Hackathon Part I: Setting Goals

This past weekend, I attended a 3 day long hackathon, organized with the purpose of bringing together 150 of our region’s techies. With the exception of a few conferences and meetups in Chicago, this was my first *official* hackathon.  I had made it one of my goals to get involved more in the tech community by attending hackathons earlier this year.  I figured attending a smaller, local one would be a good introduction for me.

Right off the bat, I was incredibly nervous the moment I registered.  I wasn’t sure if the contributions I made and submitted would be good enough.  Even though I do program in python and have created a few HTML5/Javascript-based apps, I still see myself as a code newbie since I don’t work professionally as a developer (..yet).  Feeling insecure only alleviated the butterflies I had prior to the event.

Therefore, feeling a potential fight or flight situation occurring I set a mental plan of action before going.

  1. I wasn’t going to allow myself to be gender-gated.  I knew in advance that the probability of there being only a handful of women at the event was high.  I didn’t want this to affect my judgement, so I decided that no matter what the diversity of participants (or lack of) was at the hackathon, I needed to accept it and move on.
  2. I wasn’t going to find nor justify excuses to bail. I packed a gym bag full essentials I would need throughout the weekend and had a few people “on call” who volunteered to bring me anything else that came up. I also set a sleep schedule to make sure I got enough of it to function.
  3. I wasn’t going to compete.  I decided in advance that my goal was to learn as much as I can from my team members and participants.  The prizes weren’t important to me, but I did pay attention to the judging criteria any feedback I received from volunteers at the event.

With a plan of action prepared, I set off for the hackathon right after leaving work. Exhausted but excited, I came in and showed my registration ticket.  I was promptly greeted by several organizers with smiles and a swag bag full of goodies.  After brief, friendly small talk, I headed to the main conference area ready to get started.

To read what happened at the hackathon I attended, stay tuned to Part II of How to Survive Your First Hackathon


3 thoughts on “How to Survive Your First Hackathon Part I: Setting Goals

  1. 1. I LOVE your site re-design!
    2. I wish I could’ve made it to the Hackathon!!! I RSVP’d but had to bail because of school.
    3. (last but not least) Great post! I’ll admit that I was a bit relieved to have to stay in to work on a paper. I have no projects to speak of and was really starting to hive-out at the thought of being unprepared in a tech environment. Also, I wasn’t sure how true the straight-through-the-weekend idea was and felt bad about not being able to commit to the entire weekend.

    Looking forward to part II!

    • The site re-design was actually a pain in my neck and I ended up settling on a lot of features, but I’m glad people like it! It’s not over either, getting the wiki in house is my main concern at the moment.
      The hackathon overall had a low turnout. It was busy weekend with Superbowl and #PolarBear2015, plus there was another hackathon competition with robotics as the theme happening simultaneously across town. A lot of participants who RSVPed felt like they had to choose between one or the other. The prizes for the robotics competition were better and there were more major sponsors present, so I understood.
      The only ones I knew who stayed the entire weekend was the organizers and the duo who won the competition LOL. As you’ll read in Part II and Part III, the time commitment and schedule were very difficult for me…
      As for you, school should always come first. If I had a paper due, I would not have gone either.
      Thanks for the support!

  2. Pingback: Guest Post: Andrea’s Raspberry Pi Adventures | Our Code

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