Craft By Zen

A Walk With Hackathons

At my last coding club, I was asked by one of the members that I should write about my experience on going to hackathons. It peaked my interests that there are those out there who have never been to one, so here’s some of my limited experience attending them. I joined my first hackathon two months ago and haven’t really thought hard about what is it that I love about them. They’re fun! You get to work with other people, sometimes people you don’t know. You will get to bond with teammates and work on something that interests you all. You get to work with people of different working styles. You get to hack away at something exciting, and perhaps new. The winners aren’t the ones to gain something from the hackathons. It’s also a great networking event.

But let’s go back a moment and ask, what are hackathons? They are events where an individual or team will compete against others to develop a solution to some problem in a short amount of time, whether its what can we do with this new API to what can you hack that is science related? I have participated in three hackathons and will be attending more in the near future. There aren’t necessarily prizes at the end, but someone is a winner.

You can find them through looking them up online (Google your local area and hackathons). If you don’t have one in your area, that might be an opportunity to start one in your area! Living in Silicon Valley, they are ubiquitous. If you do find one, contact the administrators of the event and tell them about yourself and your interest in participating. They are more than helpful to get you started, especially if you don’t have any teammates. If you know others who are going, or if there’s an open forum for the event, talk to others and see if you can join a group. It’s not impolite to contact organizers or participants. In fact, it should be required you do so before you go to the hackathon so you can know more about the event!

I’ve only been to three, so I consider myself a newbie. Also, I’m a relatively new developer, so I always feel inadequate going to these events. But here’s the thing. Everyone wants to learn, and most know the participants are on different levels, so participants and organizers will try and accommodate you. I felt very privileged my first hackathon was at Science Hack Day in San Francisco because the organizers were the best. I walked around aimlessly trying to find a project to join and I asked one of the volunteer staff there to help me, so we walked around and helped me break the ice with groups of people working on projects. I learned that I wanted to be a part of every project, but in the end chose to help out on a groundwater project. Although I didn’t use any of my developer skills, I was able to help out with my limited electronics experience.

SETI Institute

SETI Institute

The latest hackathon I went to was at the SETI Institute in Mountain View and we got to play around with asteroid data. I met some amazing astrophysicist who graciously explained to me what near-earth asteroids are, why it’s difficult to simulate all of them to tell us when the next biggest asteroid will hit us, and why the public should be more aware of space and help fund our future. Hackathons are better than conferences, in my opinion, because you’re an active participant rather than a passive listener. It’s something I don’t get with TED Talks; you watch them, you feel enlightened, but you forget about it easily. With hackathons, it’s less talking and more working because you’re getting ready for a live demo at the end.

Science Hack Day 2014 at Github

Science Hack Day SF 2014 @ Github HQ

Possibly the fun part is walking around and looking at solutions to problems you may have never considered, and it may be an opener to work with those people in the future. I absolutely love the Science Hack Day demos because they were interactive or had some cool component. And I love Science and love learning about things I typically never get to encounter at work. If anything, I’ve made friends at these events, and I’ll continue to go to them.