For first time hackers, there are many common misconceptions about what you need to be successful at a hackathon.
You don’t need:
- Prior hackathon experience
- Programming job experience
- To be a computer science major
What you do need is this:
- Basic design or development skills (if you know how to write a function, an if/else statement, and loops, you know enough)
- To be excited about the hackathon! Eagerly use the mentor resources available during the hackathon, and continuing to learn after the hackathon.
Finding a team
It’s nearly essential to find a good team at a hackathon. Don’t work on a project alone unless you’re confident in what you plan to do.
There are two options to finding a team:
- Get your friends to apply! This is the best strategy because your team members don’t necessarily have to be more skilled or knowledgeable than you, they just need to be devoted.
- Attend one of the team formation events the week before DubHacks or shortly after the hackathon kicks off. At these sessions you can share ideas and pair up with other eager hackers.
It’s also important to note that there will be a prize category for teams with first time hackathon attendees so don’t worry about finding a winning team, but rather a dedicated team you’re willing to work with for 30 straight hours.
Finding an idea
Don’t worry — most teams actually don’t have an idea the day of the hackathon. If you really want to think of something to build before the hackathon, you can:
- Attend one of the DubHack’s team formation events the week before or at the beginning of DubHacks for inspiration
- Think of a technology you’d like to learn. If you are truly stuck, here are some great guides targeted at specific tech/platforms (which should all be do-able if you’ve taken CSE 142/3 at the University of Washington):
Game — Creating a Flappy Bird clone (the easiest tutorial for beginners)
New language: Python — Creating a (text-based) tamagotchi pet
Website — Hello World, To-do list (websites have a longer ramp-up time than games because you need to learn how to use the command line, basic databases, and HTML. But if you can put in the time it’s very rewarding!)
Our mentors should be able to help with setting up any of the above tutorials at the event.
I’ve seen that if you know how to write a function, an if/else statement, and loops, you know enough to build something at a hackathon.
This is because for all hackathon attendees, both experienced and new, a large amount of time before and during the hackathon is actually spent reading up tutorials or documentation and working on projects or languages you haven’t tried before.
At the event: when you get stuck
Inevitably, you will get stuck during the hackathon. All teams do. Sleep deprivation doesn’t help either. When you get stuck, you can:
- Reach out to one of the DubHacks mentors (who will be wearing embarrassingly bright shirts and hats)
- Take a break to grab a snack and load up on more sponsor goodies/swag, or at one of the (surprise) events we have lined up
- Post a call for help in the DubHacks 2015 group (you’ll all be invited the week of the hackathon)
After the event
The best way to get the most out of the hackathon experience is to not forget what you’ve learned by continuing work on the project or technology you started at the hackathon. You might also want to look into sharing your project and code online using GitHub, as well as branching out and trying new technologies. It’s essential to keep the momentum going as you progress to be an expert hacker — we’re excited to see you at DubHacks this year — and hopefully the next as well.
DubHacks is the largest collegiate hackathon in the Pacific Northwest. Apply now at http://15f.dubhacks.co/