This past weekend I attended the 2016 Diversity Hackathon organized by Women Who Code Austin. This event was a 3-day hackathon and a celebration of diversity. This type of event sparks my curiosity and creativity in a very particular way. There are always constraints of time, resources, equipment and space. And yet, somehow people at these events create interesting applications. It is very exciting and motivating to be part of a hackathon.
These events usually start with a networking meeting where hackathon participants have an opportunity to talk about their ideas, listen to other people’s ideas and to form new teams. The networking is also a good ice-breaker, and it helps participants feel a bit more relaxed and comfortable, knowing they’ll be working surrounded by strangers for up to three days.
Many people participate in hackathons as an opportunity to try a new programming language or framework. Others are looking to start a startup and see a hackathon as the perfect place to create a prototype of their app and perhaps even find people who can join them in their efforts. For example, I met a group of individuals who had just completed a computer programming boot camp in Austin, TX. They signed up for this hackathon to force themselves to write an application using the newly acquired knowledge and skills. One of them created a chat application using Angular, FireBase, and Bootstrap while the other group ended up creating something using Heroku, React, and MongoDB.
When I first heard of this hackathon, I noticed they were looking for mentors, and so I signed up as one. But after the second day, I didn’t have much to do, and so I decided to create a little app of my own. My goal wasn’t to use a new programming language or framework. Instead, I wanted to see what I could do with the Stack Exchange API. After brainstorming for a bit, I decided to visualize user data from StackOverflow.com on a map using the Google Maps API. The result was a fun application that lets you see where developers are in the world and what countries, states, and cities have the biggest concentration of them. I called my project, Hacker’s Map.
In the last day of the hackathon, there was a bit of chaos as the deadline to stop writing code was approaching. We had until 2:00 PM to write code and by 2:30 PM we had to send an email with a link to the app’s code repository, the app name, description, tech stack used, and some screen shots of the application. By 3:00 PM teams started demoing their project to all attendees, including a group of judges who was voting for the top 4 applications.
Everyone had a chance to explain what their app did. Each team had only a few minutes to present, so you needed to get to the point and try to show and describe your app as much as possible in just two minutes. It feels great to do a presentation under this pressure. There is something about it that I enjoy.
All in all, it was a great weekend. Three days of code, ideas, and diversity. I enjoyed mentoring, meeting people, writing code under pressure, eating sandwiches and drinking tons of coffee. I am already looking forward to the next hackathon.
If you are a new developer and are trying to get more experience under your belt, hackathons are a perfect place for this. Also, if you are an experienced developer but haven’t had a chance to participate in a hackathon, I urge you to sign up for one as soon as possible. You can take part as a hacker or a mentor. Either way, you’ll get the benefit of being surrounded by intelligent people, wanting to create something from scratch, under pressure, and with a very tight deadline. It is great, trust me. I am already looking for the next hackathon.
Many thanks to Women Who Code Austin, Capital Factory for hosting it, and everyone else involved in making this such a great event.