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Mar 3, 2015 · 8 min read

“​I’ll go, if you go.”

Whether I used this phrase myself or it was being used on me, these words got me into some really cool adventures. That’s how I tried outdoor climbing, epic backpacking trips, and even painting workshops. This is why when I heard these words from my friend with regards to the Hack Arizona event, I knew it was my cue.

Since I agreed to support my friend and attend the hackathon, I decided to put together this post for anyone who is not clear about what hackathons are and/or is wondering if they should attend Hack Arizona. If you are still unsure if you would like to join us, let me tell you what I learned from the team behind Hack Arizona, and why I am excited about it.

1. So, what is a hackathon?

Have you ever dedicated several hours to figure out how to do something? Maybe you sat down to read an article or a book about it, or maybe you worked with a friend to create something. If you’ve ever done anything along these lines, then you already understand the spirit of a hackathon: to spend a few dedicated hours to bring an idea to life.

Hackathons are designed to give their attendees a chance to meet people from different disciplines, with different skills and experiences, to work together on interesting problems. Joseph Myers, the Director of the InnovateUA iSpace, shared a creative way to think about hackathons:

“Picture a hackathon as a music festival. There are tons of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and interests. Yet, we all came to see the same performers! People come together to share in the same experience. With a hackathon, however, YOU are the performers and it doesn’t matter what your background, experience, or interests are, we all gather with the common interest of building something great.”

A glimpse at what my first hackathon looked like. Photo credit: Brittany Bowen

2. Isn’t hacking bad?

We are using one of the alternative meanings for the word “hack”: a clever solution to an interesting problem.

You can read more about hacking (and Hack Arizona) in an article “Hacking the UA Way,” posted by Michele Norin, the chief information officer for the University of Arizona.

3. What is Hack Arizona?

Hack Arizona is the largest student-led hackathon in the Southwest. It is an event that brings together students and companies for a weekend of fun and camaraderie, creativity and innovation, learning and building. Teams of students build software and hardware projects from start to finish in under 36 hours, and can participate in various challenges to win cool prizes.

4. Who should attend Hack Arizona?

Hack Arizona is open to all students, regardless of their major or university. Any student over the age of 18, enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program, is welcomed to attend.

Photo credit: Michelle Damas

If spending a weekend potentially learning about new software and technologies, attending hands-on workshops, and/or applying your skills to build something on the spot sounds like fun to you, then you should definitely apply and attend.

I was happy that my friends who have no programming experience, or had only a semester of learning how to program, could still attend. I even invited a few who are not in Computer Science, because they would be able to contribute diverse ideas, and their expertise and opinions would be very valuable. Plus, the event will provide opportunities suited for all skill levels, regardless of participants’ background (some will be specifically designed for the beginner-level students).

5. Sounds like I need a team. What if I don’t have one?

Since I didn’t yet have a set team when I registered, I was a bit apprehensive about attending the event. Once I registered, I found out that I could join a Facebook group to connect with the other attendees, learn more about possible projects, and find a team. Also, on the first day of the event, from the time the registration opens to the start of the opening ceremony, there will be opportunities for everyone to mingle, and form teams on the spot.

If, by Friday, you still don’t have a team, don’t hesitate to approach other attendees and introduce yourself: this will start a conversation. “Hi! My name is X. I am a student at Y. I’m curious: what are you planning to work on?” Ask if they need another team member, mention your skills and/or what you are interested in. Maybe they know someone who is working in a category or with a specific technology that you would like to try out. This community is very friendly and enthusiastic, so it sounds like there should be no problem finding people that we can work with.

Photo credit: Brittany Bowen

6. Why would I want to spend my weekend at Hack Arizona?

I asked this question of the team behind Hack Arizona. Dillon Walker, who has been with Hack Arizona, since its beginning, shared his insight:

“Hack Arizona is about bringing students from different disciplines together for an experience that is not common to most. Hackathons are about building out ideas, thinking critically about problems, and working on atypical, innovative solutions. Hack Arizona appeals to both the doer and the thinker, by allowing people with ideas to iterate over them and people with passion to contribute to a team.

Hack Arizona has a part for all students, whether to get hands on team experience, hard technical-skills, or just education from our vast spectrum of sponsors.”

Brittany Paielli, who is one of the Hack Arizona organizers, added:

“[attending the event] can only benefit [you] in the end. You’ll grow as a programmer, or as an engineer, or just as a person. Getting involved is a major part of being successful.

Hack AZ is not only a hackathon but
a learning experience,
a resume booster,
a way to get involved,
a way to meet company sponsors,
a way to get a job or an internship,
a way to work on team building skills
and bring you one step closer to being more successful in the future.

And you get to build some cool stuff all at the same time. It’s worth the shot so apply today and get involved and invested in your future.”

7. What will happen at Hack Arizona?

Obviously, there will be plenty of team collaboration, planning, design, hacking / coding / programming. Also, the Hack Arizona live website will have a full list of events that will be going on during the weekend.

Additionally, there will be plenty of…

  • Mentors. If we have technical questions, need feasibility feedback, or want to get an expert’s opinion, there will be lots of industry mentors that we can talk to. They can help you simplify your project or give you advice on how to take it to the next level.
Photo credit: Brittany Bowen
  • Help and support. In addition to talking to friendly and knowledgeable mentors, volunteers, and fellow participants, we will also have access to a live event stream on the Hack Arizona website, a customized chat client and a dedicated Twitter hashtag that we can use to reach out and connect with others, post questions and comments. Help and support will be available in abundance.
  • State-of-the-art products from leading companies. Hack Arizona has a real treat for us: a lot of prominent companies are going to be at the event showing demos of their coolest, newest products. From Oculus Rifts, to drones and open APIs, we will have a chance to try our hand at programming some of these products (availability is limited, so it will be on the first-come first-serve basis for hardware). Plus, scheduled talks and demos will present information and ideas that we won’t find in any classroom or textbook.
  • Funtalicious breaks. There will also be plenty of opportunities to take a fun/delicious break, relax, enjoy Tucson weather, explore campus, play games, and just socialize. While the hackathon itself is 36 hours long, we don’t necessarily need to be awake, and coding every single minute of those hours (even though the abundance of Red Bull will make it possible). We will also have access to the facilities at the Rec Center, including access to their showers.

8. How much does it cost?

$0.00. Zero. Nada. Delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners, as well as a diverse snack bar that’s always open, will be provided free of charge during the weekend.

9. Do I need to prepare in advance?

No advance preparation is required but it would definitely help. However, if you are a beginner and just want to show up and learn on the spot, there will be various workshops to get you started.

For great tips on how to handle your first hackathon, check out this link, and start thinking about your own hackathon experience: http://appsembler.com/blog/10-tips-for-hackathon-success/

10. I cannot attend this year. How can I stay updated?

If you would like to stay updated on everything related to Hack Arizona, make sure to check out their press page. In the meantime, feel free to say hello on Facebook or Twitter.

With the supportive and upbeat atmosphere, interesting people and cool technologies, Hack Arizona promises to be an unforgettable weekend of exciting collaboration, learning, and fun.

So… “I’ll go, if you go” turned into “I am going! Are you in?”


  • Hackathon is a place for students to work on their ideas, with resources and collaboration they may not normally encounter.
  • At Hack Arizona, you will find cool people, delicious free food, amazing workshops and activities, swag, prizes and, of course, dancing cacti.
  • If you want to prepare, read 10 tips for hackathon success.
  • Check out Hack Arizona’s press page, Facebook or Twitter to stay updated.

Are you up for an adventure? I hope to meet you at Hack Arizona!

Apply here!

If you still have questions, check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

Contact us at contact@hackarizona.org

Hack Arizona logo.

Hack Arizona

The Largest Hackathon in the Southwest


Written by


Ph.D. student ★ Programmer ★ Adventurer ★ Traveler

Hack Arizona

The Largest Hackathon in the Southwest