Reach a new level of self-development — participate in hackathons

48 hours of intensive coding. Come with your laptop, go home with a prototype. Hackathons are based on a simple concept that gets more complex the more you think about it. So, what’s the point? Why would you exhaust yourself during a weekend turning an idea into a prototype? I have been doing it for a couple of years and I thought I could finally put some of my thoughts about it on paper. Or on the internet, whatever.

People attend hackathons for different reasons. For me, rather than a bunch of logical reasons, it’s more like an emotion that drives me crazy. If I try to describe it, it’s mostly about having fun. Exploring a place out of my comfort zone, finding something I want to improve, and going all-in to make a difference.

The highlights of a hackathon can vary depending on your personal interests. Meeting people with a similar mindset, figuring out a new technology to learn, and getting support from others. Collaborating with other participants towards a common goal. Competing against other teams and trying to be the best. Hackathons provide a unique environment where you can focus on what’s important to YOU, without having to worry about your boss or client breathing down your neck.

The free drinks make it worth being harassed with cameras.

Self-improvement motivated me into taking part in my first hackathon in 2015. I wanted to learn how to use Unreal Engine so I gathered some friends so we could form a team to participate in a hackathon. We ended up creating a navigation app that finds a route from A to B and flies through it within a 3D model. We discovered a technology we had no idea about and made something pretty cool with it within a weekend. For me it was an amazing first project to do with Unreal Engine. I was instantly addicted to hackathons and wanted to do more.

Working with an awesome team was the next thing that made me participate in a hackathon. In 2016 I had gathered more experience as a developer and wanted to test my new skills and boundaries. I asked some friends to join me and we decided to participate in Junction 2016. Together we decided that we would really go all-in, do our best to build something awesome by abusing the combination of our team members’ different skill sets.

We created suju, a multi-parameter route optimizer for self-driving buses. We learned about the eternal struggle of trying to combine algorithms and code in a world of ever-changing ideas and specifications. We got around 6 hours of sleep during the weekend, but we were quite happy with the end result. A pretty solution for an ugly problem. Seems like some people agreed, since we won two challenges, our track, and even the main prize (of 20 000€). We were a bunch of Finnish students that got together and won the biggest hackathon in Europe. And we were hyped.

One of our team members went home right before the prize ceremony. “We won’t win anyway”, he said.

Igniting the spark within our team felt amazing. The team we had formed clicked together. We shared the same tasteless humor, passion for hard tech, and hunger to find out what else we could achieve. We decided to stick together, book flights to Japan, and take part in Junction Tokyo 2017. One of the tracks for the event was about sustainable development goals, for example reducing food waste by 50% by 2030. That felt like different type of challenge and sounded like a lot of fun.

In our project sutoju we built a smart scale to track food waste behavior and created a personal assistant that suggest recipes you can make with the soon-to-expire ingredients you have at home, so your food doesn’t spoil. We used new technologies that we wanted to learn and pushed ourselves over our expectations. We didn’t have the proper components for a scale so we had to build them on our own. We forgot to bring a web camera, so we had to learn how to use Pepper instead. Deep learning, IoT, and robotics crammed into a weekend. Again, we won our track and the main prize. Woot.

Going to Japan for a hackathon was weird and fun. This time all of us stuck around until the prize ceremony.

Competing in a challenging environment is what we looked for in Tokyo. It’s a huge difference to the reasons I had for my very first hack. Some people wouldn’t want to associate competitiveness with hackathons. I do, since I have always enjoyed being competitive. Right now I feel inspired by my own team and motivated by the competition against other teams. That’s what makes me want to participate in my next hackathon. So what about you?

Figure out what you want to experience in a weekend. I think this is the most important take-away from hackathons. Set your expectations high and be ready to exceed them. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-timer with a new technology or an experienced developer looking for new challenges. You will find a hackathon that suits your needs. In my opinion, the ultimate hackathon experience should feel distressing and occasionally even obnoxious. I like competing against other teams by working together with my friends, but that’s just me. Others feel that every team in a hackathon is collaborating towards a common goal. That’s important as well, I agree. The great thing about hackathons is that you will feel welcome no matter what kind of mindset drives you into participating. In the end, having a good time is what matters. It’s fine if you want to chill and find new friends, enjoy free food in an exciting environment or just experience something completely new.

Hackathons are a beautiful mixture of people with different backgrounds and a common passion.

They are not just an event. They are a new mindset of solving a problem by focusing on what matters. Working together towards a common goal. Proving a point by getting stuff done. My reasons for participating in hackathons might be different than yours, but that doesn’t matter. Having the possibility of breaking boundaries by experimenting with technology is exciting, no matter what.

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This year we want to bring the excitement we have for hackathons also to FallUp. Self-development and reaching the next level is one of the main reasons for participating in hackathons and it is also the core message behind FallUp. At this year’s FallUp you will have a chance to meet the Junction crew and take a part in our coding workshop. Let’s hack your mindset to a whole new level!

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