A Non-Hacker Hacking Away At A Hackathon

Well that was a mouthful, amirite? This weekend I attended MHacks 8 at the Masonic Temple in Detroit. It’s my first Hackathon and I went without knowing a person in attendance. This is my story and my advice for if you are planning on attending a hackathon alone.

I signed up for MHacks early August right when registration opened. My friend and I had been discussing projects we were hoping to work on throughout the year. MHacks was the perfect opportunity to hone in on that and actually make something happen. However, a week before MHacks my partner bailed. (For entirely understandable reasons though — 3 exams next week #ouch!) I spent the entire week going back and forth about whether or not to attend. Going alone is intimidating! Not to mention that no one from my major is in attendance (although definitely making a push for that to change) and most of my other peers aren’t techies. Finally, on Thursday I ultimately decided “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and I will regret it if I don’t go. S/O Wayne Gretzky for the motto of my life.

Opening Ceremony

As someone who isn’t a confident coder and is just dipping her toes into tech culture, this is overwhelming. To be completely honest, when I arrived, it took me 30 minutes to build up the confidence to leave the safety of my car and enter the hustle of opening day. And thats coming from someone who is always the first girl on the dance floor at parties and the first to talk in meetings. There are over 1000 students from across the nation in attendance with at least 75 of the top tech companies that I would love to work at.

A mutual friend connected me with a team who is continuing work on a startup that they’ve been building out for the past year and I filled the role of being their designer. I was skeptical of this given that I feel like I’m going through a creative drought after 16 weeks of designing this summer. But in such a motivated environment where I am designing for fun rather then for work, actually reminded me of why I like design in the first place. I finally know how to use the design tools I have on my resume and it isn’t a chore to mock up wire frames. I feel centralized around my passions again.

Plus, I spent the first chunk of my Friday evening learning the ropes of Material Design — something I had never tapped into prior.

Advice

  1. It’s okay to not have a team in advance or an idea. I definitely didn’t. But if you’re nervous about going alone — post on social media outlets for your school saying you’re going alone and looking for a team. Even if you don’t like the people who reach out ideas, its a person you’ll know there. Ask your friends who they know and have them connect you. A name goes a long way.
  2. Wear something you’re comfortable in but also confident in. Personally, that made a big difference for me. Wearing a cute shirt and shorts made me feel good about myself and somehow correlated with me feeling more confident to talk to random strangers.
  3. Talk to everyone around you. There wasn’t a person I sat near the entire weekend who didn’t spark up a conversation with me or wasn’t engaged when I talked to them.
  4. Note that there are recruiters at the event for all the best jobs in the country (some of them even collecting resumes — which I wish I knew because I didn’t bring mine). These recruiters could be how you score your next internship; I sure hope so!
  5. It’s okay to not know what you are doing. So many ideas where thrown in my direction that I just nodded along to and pretended I understood.
  6. Attend the events they have scheduled. I just took a Yoga class with a bunch of software engineers who didn’t know what downward dog was. It was easily the most ridiculous yoga class I’ve ever been in.
  7. Hack. It’s time to work on something new and get out of your comfort zone. All the companies have great suggestions of REALLY simple apps that can be made and honestly my biggest regret this weekend is not doing one.
  8. Take time to explore the building the hackathon of course but also explore the city it’s hosted in. Go for brunch in the city, take a walk outside, get fresh air, etc.
  9. And obvi, have fun! Whether its your first hackathon or your last — everyones there to enjoy it.
Brunch in the City

I was planning on going just for Friday night and maybe til Saturday morning if I’m enjoying it. But here I am, 5:30 am Sunday morning — thriving (sorta?).

4 hours of sleep later I have to say - I’m happy I came, I’m happy I stayed, and I’m happy to have contributed to an amazing project. Check out my android mockups on my personal site!

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