On April 13, I attended the Def Hacks Seattle 2019 hackathon, hosted by my friend Chris Elliott. This was my second hackathon ever, the first being the Def Hacks Seattle hackathon back in 2017, during which Chris and I co-founded TeamsCode. This time around, I was going in solo and wanted to make some progress on my upcoming project Bidbar. As such, my hackathon experience was a bit atypical; instead of competing and working on a new project, I was coming in with an existing project I wanted to make progress on (I knew I couldn’t compete or present my project since I already worked on it beforehand). In addition, I didn’t stay the whole time; I came at about 11 am and left at 11 pm, so only half of the experience of the full hackathon. Nonetheless, I still learned a lot of things, which I’m going to share in this blog post.
Try to meet new people
At the event, I didn’t have a team, but I knew beforehand that I didn’t want to go there and just work for several hours by myself. I tried to go around to as many teams as I could to ask them about their projects. I learned a lot this way and met many people who I’ll be seeing next year in college. Overall, I’d say this is one of the best things that you can get out of a hackathon.
Even though the goal at hackathons is to crank something out after X hours of hard work, it’s hard to focus for so long. I found myself getting easily distracted or unfocused after working for too long at a time, so I took periodic breaks where I just walked around, talked to friends, or did something else.
Make use of mentors
I unfortunately didn’t follow this advice, but there were a lot of mentors at the event with industry experience meant to help the students (I’m not sure if this is the same at all hackathons though). I spent over an hour trying to get the getbidbar.com domain to point to bidbar.netlify.com. The fix turned out to be a very simple one-line change in the DNS settings, which I could have figured out earlier with the help of mentors or even other students.
Eat (as) healthy (as possible)
We had pizza for lunch and pizza for dinner, and there was an unlimited supply of chip bags. I felt very tempted to open bag after bag of chips, but I was already starting to feel queazy and stopped myself after two. Luckily, Def Hacks provided some fruits and salads, and I substituted chips with tangerines for my evening snack :)
At the end of the day, a hackathon should be a fun and memorable experience. Luckily for me, a lot of the hackathon volunteers were my classmates, so we had a good time playing ping pong and watching the cup stacking competition together.
I’m definitely new when it comes to hackathons, and both of my two experiences were very different from what one would usually do at a hackathon. But I just wanted to share my two cents. Hopefully, prospective hackers out there will read this and feel more inclined about going to their first event; hackathons are truly less intimidating than they seem!