This past weekend I was invited to attend PennApps, the world’s first collegiate hackathon at the University of Pennsylvania.
This event of high-caffeinated coding was about bringing software and hardware ideas to life!
I spent 36 hours coding, hacking, learning, and networking with fellow hackers, sponsors, and organizers of the event. I learned a lot about deploying APIs(Application Programming Interface), brushed off my React, Figma and bootstrap skills to design and code an interactive web interface and got some cool swag.
When I got accepted to the event, I was hesitant to go, thinking that I was unqualified and inexperienced to compete. Looking back, I am so glad I talked myself out of these self- doubt thoughts and decided to attend anyways. I have learned so much and gained some tips for my next hacking opportunity. To my first-time hackers: if there is an opportunity that feels beyond your capability, lean to saying yes. Allow yourself to take on a challenge and strive to learn from the experience.
Now that I have attended my first hackathon, here are some of my main takeaways for first-time hackers:
- Stay Curious: Keep your curiosity alive by exploring new technologies, tools, and approaches during the hackathon. I found out that attending a hackathon is not only about showing and applying what you already know, but also an opportunity to challenge yourself with new technologies and learn from others.
- Have Fun: While hackathons are competitive, remember to have fun and enjoy the experience. The journey is as important as the destination. At PennApps there were many activities going on like workshops, speakers’ session, and Karaoke nights. These were great ways to take healthy breaks from coding to recharge and connect with others. As you attend events, remember to have at least one updated copy of your resume downloaded to your phone and computer, so you can easily upload your resume to resume drops.
- Embrace Failure: It’s okay to face setbacks or even fail. Many valuable lessons come from failure, and it’s a part of the learning process at hackathons. It can be tempting to try and build a ‘perfect’ program but in reality, that is not expected from you. The beautiful part of developing at a hackathon is: no one really knows the right answer or is expected to know the right way or method to complete a task. It is a learning process, and it is okay if there is no final product since you have a lot of time after the hackathon to continue developing.
- Work in a team: Whenever presented with an opportunity, always opt to work in a team. Not only will the workload be lighter, but you will also learn a lot from your teammates and have fun while building with others. At the beginning of the hackathon there is a team formation event which helps you meet other hackers who might have the same interests as you.
- Your project presentation is as important as your code! As you build your solution, keep in mind what you want to show the judges as your minimum viable product (MVP). While a hackathon is mostly about coding, a project with a nice demo is far more memorable than a project with multiple lines of code with a weak/no demo. For every iteration and testing of your product, aim for recording your results so that if your code breaks at the last minute or you do not have enough time to test your code before presentation, you will have something to present.
- And lastly, effectively allocate time for ideation, development, testing, and presentation. Spend time planning your project before diving into coding. Define your problem statement, goals, and a rough project roadmap. This will help you prioritize what feature you need to build first and have a clear vision of how you want to present your project to the judges.
If you are interested in attending PennApps, here is a link to applying for the next event: https://pennapps.com/ . ProTip: Try to apply earlier to maximize your chances of acceptance.