My Hackathon Journey

I came to college three years ago with zero computer science experience, and absolutely no idea what a hackathon was. I still remember coming in on a Monday morning to one of my beginner CS classes and listening to a group of guys excitedly talking about how they won a prize at HackBrown the past weekend. Clueless, I googled ‘hackathon’ and started reading the Wikipedia page. To be honest, I was overwhelmed. How were these first year students going to this event? How did they know how to make these projects? I don’t have these skills. My head was buzzing with so many thoughts and questions, and in that moment, I decided that I was not ready for a hackathon.

Flash forward a year later. I still felt like I didn’t have enough skills to attend a hackathon. I was really intimidated. It was actually at a party where a friend of a friend who was organizing HackBeanpot convinced me to go. My panicked self started asking her a million questions. Patiently, she told me how hackathons are for beginners, and how a lot of students come in without any idea of what they are going to do, or even a group to begin with. It sounded too good to be true. How did they pull this off? “Don’t worry about it,” she told me, and if I didn’t want to hack, there was always a bunch of really good free food the whole weekend. That’s when I decided to take my chance and go.

HackBeanpot 2018 was one of the first hackathons I attended. I came in without a group and no idea what I was going to do there, or how I would fit in. In the first hour, I attended a team formation activity and was able to join a group. In the next hour we had an idea. I never felt uncomfortable because I was always surrounded by exciting people and ideas.

I see hackathons as an open and inclusive space for learning new skills, forming new ideas and making new friends. They are a place for starting the next big startup. There are only so many hours in a weekend, and it will never be enough time to fully create a product, and that is okay. Some of the best projects I have seen are those that are barely functional, but the idea is fleshed out. I have seen everything from sketches to wire frames to working prototypes. Either way, a hackathon is a place to sit down and start creating. It is an event with all of the resources needed to give someone the activation energy to start a project. There are mentors from all different types of companies to help you form ideas, learn new languages and deliver your pitches to the judges. There is a supportive network of peers, and most importantly, plenty of really good free food.

By the end of my first HackBeanpot, I was able to learn Ruby on Rails and a little bit of python to create a prototype for a website to help students create better long term schedule plans. I learned how to demo a project to a judge, and I also made a lot of friends who ended up being in a lot of my classes later on. I left feeling excited and motivated to attend more hackathons and I also really wanted to help run one. I realized that I wanted other students to feel the same way I did at the end of HackBeanpot.

That same year, I attended a couple of other hackathons, and what I noticed was that I liked HackBeanpot the most out of all of them. It was a smaller event, and it really emphasized creativity. It was a place where the hacking came first, and the prizes and networking came later, and I really liked that (it also had the best food :))

A month later, I applied to the HackBeanpot organizing team. I came in without any event planning experience, all I knew was that I wanted to help create an event where people left feeling the same way I did when I went to HackBeanpot. I was on the Sponsorship team this year, which involved creating a brand new Sponsorship packet to help create meaningful experiences for companies and for hackers. I had never raised money for an event, so I learned how to talk to recruiters and engineers to make them understand what a hackathon was and how they could help out. I was always surrounded by a really supportive team of organizers who had all different types of experiences and skills to bring to the table. I felt like I learned how each interaction, whether it is an email, a phone call or an in person meeting, should be done with intention and purpose. By the end of the year, we had raised more money than ever before and were able to bring together over 10 companies to give hackers a true taste of the Boston tech scene.

The actual hackathon was the best part of the entire year. I was able to see all the work our team had put in materialize into real people and real projects. It was exciting to see hackers running around and ideating, talking to sponsors, and eating food( we got boba this year and it was the greatest thing ever). I had no idea what it would take to run an event like HackBeanpot, but it was one of the most rewarding and fun weekends of my life.

Organizing a hackathon has been an extremely fruitful experience for me. It has taught me so much about what it takes to build community, strengthen values and how to do things with intention. It is an experience I would recommend to everyone!

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boop a snoot today

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