My First DubHacks
My name is Temo, and I’m a senior at the University of Washington studying Computer Science. I was raised in Cuernavaca, Mexico and one of the main reasons I came to Seattle was to learn more about technology; particularly the intersection of technology and social good. After participating in DubHacks 2016, I somehow managed to convince the DubHacks team to let me return as an organizer, and I’ve been helping expand the DubHacks mission ever since.
DubHacks was the first collegiate hackathon I participated in, and like some of you, I didn’t know what to expect. Luckily I found Francisco and Esteban, two friends who were in the same boat; we decided to team up. Here’s my DubHacks story, and everything I learned from it.
Going in without a plan
We came into DubHacks without much of an idea of what we were doing, allowing us to keep an open mind with ideation. During team formation, we were able to share ideas and exchange personal stories with others. One of the reasons why I love DubHacks is that it encourages students to build with social impact in mind, and it was during this part of the night when I truly experienced that mission. I was exposed to a lot of social issues that I wasn’t aware of, and able to start brainstorming how we could solve them. If this is your first social impact hackathon, or your first hackathon in general, keep in mind that it’s important to have an open mind when ideating. You never know what dots might connect.
Unfortunately, coming unprepared comes with some disadvantages like wasting valuable time. DubHacks is a 24-hour hackathon, so time matters a lot! Planning for a project that is achievable in this time period is really difficult. There are countless stories of project ideas that shoot for the stars, but have to be scaled back dramatically when there wasn’t enough time. It happened to us. We had many ideas that were focused on issues in Latin America, but all of them were varied. Our scope was too big, and it was not until a mentor — Jose Luis — helped us narrow down an idea, that we began to make progress.
If you have time, I recommend you try ideating and networking before the event. Maybe there’s a social issue you’re passionate about, or one you believe needs more attention. Even if it is something simple like a new tech tool that you feel can help others, try coming up with project ideas beforehand. By starting somewhere simple you might even come up with a plan of attack before the event starts. You can use the DubHacks Facebook group to connect with others and discuss your ideas.
The coding starts.
The next part of the event was when we coded. For me, this was the most exciting and scary part of the night. We were working on chatbots in Spanish, but none of us really knew where to start. Although it is stressful, one of the best parts of a hackathon is having to quickly learn something new. In our case, it was chatbot frameworks, web development, and iffy Natural Language Processing in Spanish. I would recommend that you have a list of everything you’ll likely need to learn and split it between members on your team — that ensures that you sort of know what you’re getting into, even though things may change.
Once you’ve built your project, you’ll have the opportunity to present it. I truly encourage you to submit your project and demo, even if you feel like it’s not your best work or you didn’t complete it. After registering our project, we tried to leave. But when we went to the organizers and told them we wanted to drop our submission, they told us that they couldn’t do that and encouraged us to go through with our demo. We didn’t really want to demo to win — we just wanted to validate our idea. Demoing is the first chance you get to interact with judges from academia and industry to hear their feedback. Our judges gave us valuable insight on what we could do next to improve our bot in future steps. Don’t miss this opportunity! You won’t regret it.
Our final project was Food+, a chatbot that aims to reduce food waste in Latin America by connecting food donors with places in need of food. We went on to win 3rd place at DubHacks 2016. It was extremely fulfilling to work on a project that pushed us, solving a social problem for a region we love.
I hope DubHacks can inspire you to use your skills to build with social impact, just like it did for us. Good luck and see you soon!