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. To read part II, Attending my first hackathon and rubbing elbows with the sponsors, click here.
In Part II of the series, I summarized the type of project I wanted to build: a location-specific news and trending source powered and automated by web-crawled social media data I gathered. I decided to use the Twitter API to perform search queries based on my region’s lat-long coordinates, create a bot and web crawler to pull tweets and info from that location, and use the data to report trends and news via a web app/site. A big project indeed considering I only knew how to do 3 of the 5 tasks it would take me to complete it, but somehow I convinced myself I had enough time. Blame it on a sugar-induced energy spike caused by the delicious espresso powdered bon-bons I was munching on at the event.
As the time carried on, staying awake was the hardest thing for me. I had been use to getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep even with a busy work schedule, so working throughout the night and early morning was out of the ordinary. Not to mention, the food there was mostly college dorm junk: candy, pizza, donuts, chips, and lots of soda. On Day 1, I broke into the facility kitchen to find coffee and munched on an apple and banana, trying to stick to eating healthy and avoid brainfog. After a while, I dived in and ate whatever was offered to avoid starving. Big mistake, by 11am on Day 2 of the hackathon, battling food allergies had now been added to my agenda.
I was incredibly optimistic about my chances of finishing the project in less than 24 hours. Even if I had no intention of entering the competition in the webdev category, I wanted to finish it according to the guidelines set, just to prove to myself that I could. Another slight setback occurred in the afternoon: we lost our WIFI connection for an hour and half. Feeling powerless and ill from allergies, I used the time to take a nap in one of the breakout rooms. When I woke up, I felt even more ill, but I still got up and headed back to my workspace.
By night, I had made progress. The twitter bot was created, the web crawler program I coded in python was set up, and I had a functioning site mockup with the important widgets I needed to make the crawler work. I still had a lot to do though: I needed to add content, get the python code synced to the site and functioning on the backend, create my first graphs from the data I had gathered earlier, deploy the app, and upload the site. Though it seemed like my tasklist was growing by the hour, I still felt optimistic until another setback occurred: the organizers had decided that due to the low turnout of those who entered the competition, the judging would be moved up 5 hours on Day 3, thus moving up the time we were all expected to be finished. Because I had not entered the competition, I accepted the changes.
Truthfully, I was disappointed in myself because I knew I couldn’t finish my project by the time the hackathon would end. A friend that I had made at the event encouraged me to carry on with the site after the event, and use it in my portfolio. I concluded this would be the best route. I continued to work until around midnight, packed up, and went home to try to get some more sleep.
To read my 7 tips for how to survive your first hackathon, (and the final conclusion of what happened at mine), stay tuned for Part IV.