My Very First Hackathon Experience

(This article is dedicated to those who want to join their first hackathon but not sure what to expect.)

All-Women Hackathon: Choose to Challenge by The Expat Woman

Two weeks ago, I participated my very first hackathon. I had a hard time finding a hackathon due to the fact that many hackathons are only available to high school students and college students, or grads who graduate within 6 months, which I am nowhere to that (I graduated in Aug 2020 — so close!!). Around a month ago, one of my bootcamp friends shared the All-Women Hackathon event organized by The Expat Woman on Linkedin. At first, I was intimidated by the fact that the event was going to be 1 week long, but turns out it was one of the best things that had happened during my job search journey.

Hackathons in general are very welcoming, especially to code newbies and people who have no coding experiences, because you would learn A LOT during hackathons. I saw this Medium article awhile ago that this dude joined a hackathon after learning coding for a few days (Can’t find it at the moment, will attach the link if I could find it). Seeing that guy joining a hackathon as a very newbie while I’ve been coding for more than 6 months, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and sign up for the event. Also, knowing that I would be in a safe space with other talented women, I had a bigger motivation to sign up.

The hackathon was around 1.5 weeks long. I pretty much dedicated most of my time to this hackathon for a week and not doing much job searching-related stuff. There would be investors among the judges, so we were building a project to solve one of these challenges:

Hackathon Challenge 1: Find solutions to end gender bias and discrimination in the hiring process and at the workplace so women thrive in their careers and their achievements are celebrated

Hackathon Challenge 2: Find solutions to encourage more girls and women to step into STEM fields of studies and work

Hackathon Challenge 3: Find solutions to create gender equality in entrepreneurship so women have access to funding, resources and mentors

Hackathon Challenge 4: Find solutions to encourage and empower women to reach their goals, achieve their full potential and become leaders in their area of expertise

Hackathon Challenge 5: Find solutions to help immigrant or refugee women who are new to a country get access to resources, supportive networks, and opportunities

Hackathon Challenge 6: Find solutions to help women in unsafe home or work environments get access to support and resources.

Hackathon Challenge 7: Other — a hack project related to our theme “Choose to Challenge”

(Our team chose Challenge 4.)

Here’s a breakdown of the timetable (I might be off with the timeline):

Day 1: Network with other participants and pitch presentations (only if you have pitch ideas and want to have your own team)

Day 2–3: Team Formation

Day 4–10: Building projects with your team

Day 11: Deadline to submit demo, prototype and pitch slides.

Day 12: Team/Pitch Presentation

Each team could have max. of 8 people. In my team, we had 5 UI/UX designers (3 of them knew HTML & CSS), 2 project managers, and then me!— 1 full stack developer. I also have to mention that most of my team members are career changers: a few of us graduated from bootcamps recently or are self taught. I believe this was the first time for any of us participated in a hackathon.

In the first 3 days, we spent a lot of time as a team discussing the business plan and the design of the website. Then, I realized that we only had 7 days to build a project from scratch. As the only full stack developer of the team, the time I had was very very limited to build the entire prototype, given that I had limited experience as well. As a result, I spoke up during our team meeting asking if we could meet individually since all of us were very clear with our roles, therefore we all could have more time and energy to work on our part. After the day, I noticed everything went much faster and BETTER since everyone was very productive and very responsible with their roles. We also took the opportunities to meet the mentors in the hackathon for different advice, including the project design, how to pitch the project better, and programming as well.

I was very worried at first, because I had the responsibility to build the prototype from scratch to finish (could be imposter syndrome). But I was super grateful that my teammates were very understanding and I had other UI/UX designers/front-end developers to help me out.

The UI/UX design team did a really great job designing the website. I know it is very common for the developer team to communicate with the design team. I made use of this experience to communicate with the design team more often, so we could be all in the same page with the user flow and user experience, and such. I also spent a lot of time communicating with the project managers to understand what they would like to see in the prototype and for the business pitch.

During project weeks in my bootcamp, we either worked with other developers who had similar skill sets or worked alone. I like working in teams and this experience had opened my eyes to how it’s like to work with people in different roles and teams.

I am not sure how other teams in the hackathon collaborated with each other, but I am 100% confident to say that our team has a very good dynamic and everyone’s super chill. I can feel the respect that we had for each other. When one person had any opinions, everyone kept an open ear to listen to each other, which I personally found this type of space quite rare and this is something I valued so much from this hackathon experience.

In the end, guess what? My team won second place! After working on the prototype days and nights, our efforts had finally paid off! Our PMs did such a really great job during the pitch presentation that we got potential investors wanting to invest in our project. However, our team has collectively decided to not continue working on the project. I strongly believe that the project has potential, so maybe someday when we all have more experience, then we can work on this project again.

If you are looking to join hackathons and you are not sure if you want to, you should go for it, no matter what! Having to build something from scratch within a week from planning to executing and work with other people, to me, that experience is more valuable than anything, especially if you are at the start of your programming journey. Everyone has different hackathon experience, and my first time was certainly very enjoyable. In the meantime, I learned more than I ever did in the past few months of job searching. During the experience, I was constantly forced to step out of my comfort zone, especially implementing features that I never had worked in, like creating multi-step forms or using React Hooks. Before this hackathon, I felt unconfident in myself even though I had built full-stack projects before. Now I just want to keep building more projects and learning more new things and writing more Medium articles about my experience and things I just learned.

I hope this article could somewhat motivate you if you are still hesitating. I need to say it’s scary to step out of your comfort zone, but IT’S ALL WORTH IT! Feel free to find me on LinkedIn if you have more questions about my Hackathon experience!!

If you are interested, here’s the Github page of our prototype (not responsive unfortunately :/).

Preview of our website:

I want to thank my teammates: Alyssa (my late night styling buddy who taught me a lot of front-end styling), Emma (who started this project idea and one of the UI/UX designers), Lara, Diane, Amy, Elena and Raylene!

Full Stack Web Developer. Flatiron School + Recent College Graduate in Sociology. Snoopy. Iced Vanilla Latte. Sitcoms. Wannabe Solo Traveler. Avid Googler.

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