Mentoring at Hackathons — Lizzie Siegle

Lizzie studies computer science at Bryn Mawr College. Some of her interests are tennis, yoga, running, developing apps, and hackathons

Lizzie at PennApps 1 year ago! Working on an iOS app at her make-shift standing desk

How many hackathons have you mentored at?

You probably participated in a lot of hackathons before mentoring for the first time. How did you decide to make that jump to mentoring?
I mentored at a high school hackathon (my alma mater, actually). As a junior in college with about 10 hackathons under her belt, I finally felt qualified to help with APIs, documentation, syntax, IDEs, etc. I realized that being a hacker was no longer exciting for me necessarily (it became same old, same old — I still enjoy it, but when you’ve done something so much…), and helping others hack was exciting.

Favorite part of mentoring?
The face or excitement a hacker experiences when they finally get something, and you helped get them there. That warms you up inside.

How would you best respond to a student that wants to mentor but fears the lack experience?
You don’t need to be an expert to mentor. People are happy just to hear your experiences, advice, and if you just point them in the right direction — actually, that’s important! You’re like a teacher, meaning you shouldn’t tell them the answers, you must lead them, or maybe show them, and then they’ll know how to continue.

What makes someone a great mentor?
A great mentor is empathetic, supportive, patient, understanding, can communicate well, and shows, doesn’t tell. A great mentor is enthusiastic, hopeful, and helpful. If you can do something in one language, you can still help hackers do something in another! You have the concept down then, it’s just a matter of syntax.

What was your favorite hackathon and why?
My favorite hackathon was Spectra, the Bay Area’s largest women’s hackathon. I’d spent half a year planning it with a large, diverse group of young women who came from all over, and though it was stressful, the atmosphere the day of the hackathon was indescribable. I think I would have loved it if I was a hacker, too — we had great speakers, mentors, workshops, and it was just so empowering and welcoming!

What’s your strategy for tackling a hard problem when you’re mentoring?
Use a whiteboard or scratch paper! It really helps to outline the problem, and what you want to do. Find the line where something is going wrong, and figure out what you expect, what’s happening, and why it is not happening.