How to Survive Your First Hackathon Part II: Rubbing Elbows and Networking

This post is part of a series I created detailing my experience at my first hackathon, to read part I, Setting goals and preparing for my first hackathon, click here.

One of the best things about attending a hackathon is hearing first-hand from experienced developers and connecting with other participants.  The keynote speakers for the event included Jeremy Packer, a local entrepreneur who founded a social lifestyle app as a college student and has since developed it to become one of the most-used social mobile apps in our region.  Zach Schneider, a Rails engineer at Aha!, a popular road-mapping software, was also a guest speaker.  Both had a lot of informative tips for us in terms of putting together remote teams, partnering with local businesses, and establishing development models that can be easily replicated for growth.  I appreciated the fact that they stuck around that night to answer questions and connect with participants.  I could tell that they really loved what they do, which makes me even more excited about the possibilities of working in the industry.

As the event carried on, the number of participants began to dwindle.  This wasn’t surprising to me.  People attend hackathons for a variety of reasons, the central focus being on the sponsors who are there, the freebies, and the toys. I managed to keep myself from playing with the drone that was there, but they seemed to be everyone’s favorite.  My focus for Day 1 was to meet folks and establish a team.

While most of the participants gathered around the Yahoo reps, I was most interested in Greplytix, a consultant firm that works with companies on producing data analytics and visualizations.  As I’m currently studying python and how it’s used in the data science field, I wanted to find reps from Greplytix quickly and ask them specific questions about their workflow.

By Saturday morning, I manage to corner one of the employees and sit with him in the office while he discussed in detail how Greplytix uses open source and cloud based services to manage a growing clientele.  We also discussed useful tools that would help me with my project in the long run, such as D3.js which I had a chance to demo and really liked.  Greplytix offers software engineering internships and the rep encouraged me to stop by the office throughout the week to discuss them.  I already work full-time, but I made a mental note of the offer, which may be a great opportunity for me to take advantage of this Summer.

I had not met one python developer by the time the actual hacking began, and my hopes of organizing a team to work with were quickly squashed.  I soon found out from a few of the organizers that there were not many participants who entered into the web or mobile development categories.  Even though I saw this as a setback, I remembered that I wasn’t there to compete, I was there to learn.  So I settled on a learning project I had been interested in for a while: producing location-specific social media analytics by hacking APIs and web scraping Twitter.

To find out how my project went, stay tuned for Part III of the How to Survive Your First Hackathon series…

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