How I Survived My First Hackathon

by Emmilie Estabillo
Backend Development Team, Break Diving, Inc.

I recently attended my first coding hackathon. It was a one day, 10am-5pm event in New York City and the theme was to create for social good.  It was, least to say, a valuable learning experience.  But perhaps not in the way that you think…

First: I didn’t write a single line of code


We were a team of 5 with one member who firmly suggested we do this hackathon his way: instead of simply coming up with ideas and choosing one social issue to build up from, we were to narrate our life stories and struggles and pick out a common thread.

Apparently, this methodology would help us relate to the end user.

I had my doubts.

While the process seemed logical, we didn’t have enough time to be lengthy in this preparation.  He, however, assured us this was the right way to do it, and we went along with his plan against our better judgment.

Well, the discussion went on until about 3pm.  And sadly, I already knew I wouldn’t be coding at all that day.

I also noticed that my teammates were as frustrated as I was.

However, no one had the energy to contradict him at that point, a phenomenon I could only attribute to inculcated politeness. We ended up with a clickable prototype made with Sketch for the presentation. And we were the only team without a repo.


Now I’m not by any means discouraging anybody from going to a hackathon. My experience is clearly an outlier (or I hope it is).  Here are a few reasons why my story shouldn’t stop you from going to your first hackathon:

  1. It’s not that intimidating.  Don’t get cold feet. Just GO. I understand, the word ‘Hackathon’ sounds like it’s only for code ninjas who’ve had years of experience. But really, it’s not. If you’re a coder, then you’re ready.  Remember, the goal is get close to an MVP (minimum viable product), not a full-featured app that’s going public the next day.
  2. You will likely be a part of a group.  So you won’t have to do it all alone.  There are plenty of good people looking for members on the day of the hackathon itself.  The organizers also usually organize a kickoff the day before so you get to network a day early.Note that based on my experience, just like in life, not everyone at most hackathons are going to be team players.  Some will try to undermine your ideas, or worse, write over your code without telling you!  So watch out for those types.And if you by any chance end up without a group, don’t fret.  The dude who went solo in our hackathon ended up in 4th place with a cool prize and our team?  Well, as you know, we didn’t have a repository!  He did far more by himself than our group had accomplished as a team.
  3. You get to network, network, network.  Our group stayed for the afterparty, and along with the hosts, we met a lot of talented developers–some just starting out and others who are coding for a living.  Even if you’re shy like me, talking to strangers in this kind of setup is exciting.  It’s a fact that developers often have a better chance of landing a job through connections and/or referrals.  So what better way to finish a productive day than in the company of smart, accomplished people?

See you in the next hackathon!

Break Diving Backend Developer Emmilie Estabillo in center (author), Break Diving Frontend Developer Juliana Bustamante (left, in purple) and fellow hackathon coder on right.

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