New to Code? Try Attending a Hackathon

What is a Hackathon?

If you are new to programming or web development, you may not be familiar with hackathons. Also commonly referred to as hack days, hackathons are marathon-like events where programmers, developers, designers, project managers, and many other experienced participants come together to collaborate on useable software or hardware projects. Usually organized as some form of competition, hackathons are typically made up of several teams competing to develop the best solution for a specific problem, industry, or subject. Hackathons can last anywhere from a day to a week or more.

Why Participate?

Help Causes You Care About

There are many reasons why you should attend a hackathon. There are many hackathons that come about to address important issues and are designed to foster innovation for serious local and global issues such as poverty, pollution, conflict, and more. By participating in a hackathon to enact new kinds of solutions using software and hardware, you can be a small part of a new solution for problems you care about.

Money and Prizes

Did you know you can win money at some hackathons? And, if not money, many of them also award some amazing prizes. In fact, there was recently some news that some people are making a healthy living off hackathon awards and prizes, alone. Now, I wouldn't suggest you quit your job to try your hand at an income derived solely from hackathons but they might be able to help you afford that next little something you get for yourself.

Experience

Especially if you are a student or new developer, hackathons provide experience you can't find anywhere else. Your first day at any new job you can usually expect some time to get acclimated. Not so with hackathons. As soon as the clock starts ticking, you have to jump right in and work with people you might not have ever met before. This can really help new developers step outside of their comfort zones and force them to adapt themselves to a rapidly moving and changing environment.

Networking

Looking for a new job? Or, maybe you are looking to meet some other local developers? Nothing cements new relationships quite like a hackathon. Being thrown together with a small team of people you may have never met before into the mad whirlwind of fast-paced iteration and competition can usually be counted on to lead to lasting friendships and, hopefully, more competitions. And, if one of those developers happen to work at a company that needs a developer down the road you can be sure who your new friend will put forward. Better still, employers and sponsors regularly use hackathons to identify and recruit new talent.

Who Can Attend a Hackathon?

It depends on the rules and kind of hackathon but you can usually count on developers, designers, project managers, and maybe some people with experience developing hardware. Skill levels and experience also vary greatly. As a student or someone new to development, you may experience what many call "imposter syndrome" when thinking of going to a hackathon. In other words, you may believe you are too green to contribute which may lead to a bad experience and embarrassment. Don't let that worry prevent you from joining. New developers, designers, and people with less formal roles than that are always welcome (unless the rules specifically say otherwise).

To help encourage you, I'll share some stories of our recent Houston students' participation in a few local hackathons:

Houston Mini-Hackathon

Several of our students are also members of the local Houston Free Code Camp group and wanted to help encourage everyone to join in an upcoming hackathon. Therefore, they worked together to launch a 12-hour mini-hackathon.

DigitalCrafts students Aspen Hollyer, Tanweer Rajwani, Paul Como, and JJ Spesteris joined several local developers and formed teams to create new solutions for problems facing Houstonians today. Below are some of the projects and GitHub repositories from the event so you can get a better idea of what was created by teams of strangers over just 12 hours.

It's also worth mentioning that our DigitalCrafts students were only up to week 6 in our 16-Week Full Stack Immersive course before undertaking this project.

http://off-the-chain.herokuapp.com/

https://github.com/CodeFay/off-the-chain

https://github.com/dstanfor350/dscamera

https://github.com/daxapps/YouFood

Houston Hackathon

The mini-hackathon definitely provided some practice for our students, and several of them participated in the Houston Hackathon the following weekend. Spanning over two days, participants worked in teams to develop civic-minded solutions for problems ranging from transportation to waste collection.

More details on the event can be found at the Houston Hackathon 2017 website. You can check out the ideas presented and those developed into projects for the event by clicking here.

2017 Houston NASA Space Apps Challenge

Finally, our very own Tanweer Rajwani went the extra mile by entering a hackathon, competing with a team, and winning an award after just two weeks into the DigitalCrafts program! Together with his team, Tanweer developed Ember Alert as a solution to better enable people to track fires across the globe.

Thanks to their innovative and useful solution, the team walked away with the People's Choice Award and the opportunity to enter it into the competition for a global award.

We are super-proud of Tanweer and his team for their accomplishment. You can read Tanweer's full writeup on his Medium blog.

Don't Miss Out!

There are hackathons happening all the time, probably some nearby you. If you can't make it out, there are also several remote-only hackathons you can join. Hackathon IO and Hackevents are a couple of the most popular tools for discovering them. If you are still unsure about participating many hackathons also offer spectators or visitors so you can scope it out before joining in. Whatever you do, get in there as soon as you can -- you will be glad you did!

And, of course, feel free to reach out to us at hello@digitalcrafts.com if you have any questions or need advice about entering hackathons.

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Author
Jason Ephraim

Campus Director, Houston