Hackathons: Coding optional, courage required.
“‘I can’t” are two words that have never been in my vocabulary. I believe in me more than anything in this world.” — Wilma Rudolph
At a hackathon, people come together and use technology to transform ideas into reality. The goal is to start from scratch and end with a working prototype. Generally, these events last from 24–48 hours and are filled with food, caffeine, prizes, and, you guessed it, more caffeine. After time runs out, teams demo what they’ve built and compete for prizes.
As a Women Who Code Austin leadership member, and Co-Organizer of the Austin Diversity Hackathon and Python Game-A-Thon, I was familiar with the concept and how things worked. However, I had never actually participated in one.
Let me get the diversity numbers out of the way. After introduction night, I counted:
6 females. Out of that number, 1 was black. There were also 3 black males. Now that the hues have been counted, let’s move on.
1 . You do not need to be a developer or coder to participate in a hackathon.
I will yell that again if necessary. While I am a blossoming coder, it is not yet in my top level of awesomeness. That said, I did not want to team up with my fellow WWCODE member (and friend) Trish who was also participating. She’s awesome and can kick-ass, but that’s another story.
Trish pitched. I met someone the first night that pushed me to pitch. Instead, I walked around and pitched my idea to a few individuals and teams. The more I talked about it, the more people told me my idea would work great with hers! We discussed, and I went home to think it over.
The next day, we were working together with two other guys we knew through Women Who Code. Three hackathon newbies out of four team members.
2 . Use your strengths to your advantage
Again, I am NOT a programmer by trade. I deal mostly in documentation and project management. I knew I wanted to try my hand at more wireframing, and I would definitely be useful for QA/Testing and design. What did I do? I fell back on my PM foundation and made sure we were on track, what needed to be done, and what we were shooting for. Trello came in handy, and I jumped in with my ideas and my wireframe efforts. NO THEY WERE NOT PERFECT. But I got my point across. And some of those ideas made it into our end-result.
3 . Don’t lean on who you know — jump on what you don’t.
It would have been easy to lean on my friend — and you know what? I started doing it without realizing it. Instead of showing the team what I was doing, I would only show her. And she made sure to shoot me a note in case I didn’t realize what I was doing. As the night went on, I opened up a bit more and fell into a rhythm with everyone else. Once I realized that I had nothing to be ashamed of, it was easier to share my ideas. It also became easier to ask if anything was needed or if I could help with code review or testing. Google is your friend. And three of us were working in a new language.
“Whatever we believe about ourselves and our ability comes true for us.” — Susan L. Taylor
4 . Enjoy yourself
If I never, ever, give advice again, let me tell you this: Enjoy the hell out of yourself. It is okay to be scared. But ultimately, it is a new experience. And new experiences are just that — scary and exciting all tied up with a bow. I made new connections, I felt WAY more confident, I learned something new, and I was sleepy as hell. I would not trade the experience for anything.
And you know what? We won second place. I went in for the experience, and came out a winner. Take that, naysayers!
Now on to my next hackathon — this weekend! I’m going to be quirky, learning hungry, eager me. I am winning, no matter what the judges decide.