Attending Your First Ever Hackathon

The name “hackathon” can be very misleading. This is not an event where people hack into Facebook accounts or learn to hack into security systems. A hackathon where technology enthusiasts — young or old, students or professionals, beginners or experts — gather to form teams and “hack” up something new and useful.

If you have yet to attend a hackathon, you might be feeling that you are not good enough to take part in a technically challenging event like this. You might fear not being able to join a team. You might even feel apprehensive about being left behind when working with your team. Before you start doubting yourself and decide not to attend a hackathon for another year, or at least until you feel “ready”, you should know that this pre-hackathon anxiety is completely normal and is something that most students are bound to experience.

The first hackathon that I attended was LearnHack, a hackathon organized by ISD that is focused around the theme of improving students’ learning experience using technology. Two days before the hackathon, I actually considered cancelling my ticket. None of my friends were attending the same hackathon because HackNotts was scheduled for the same day, I wasn’t sure where the location for the hackathon was, and I was nervous that I wouldn’t be technically competent. I am glad that I decided to ignore these gut feelings.

I went to the hackathon, teamed up with two other participants who knew a lot more than I did about programming and even managed to win a prize for having the Most Innovative project. Furthermore, I learned a lot from the hackathon; I learned about HTML, CSS, Blippar, and, well, hackathons! Not a bad experience to mark the beginning of my hackathons experience.

If you are still not convinced that you should sign up for a hackathon right now, here are some tips to help you get ready for a hackathon.

You might want to choose hackathons that offer an environment that is more collaborative than competitive. Hackathons that encourage participation from all skill levels are less likely to expect you to have much prior experience. This would allow you to learn at a slower and more comfortable pace.

Be prepared to learn from others during the hackathon and make the most of the hackathon in terms of exploring different technologies and ideas. Always remember this, you have nothing to lose, only knowledge to gain. Therefore, if you arrive with a positive attitude — eager to learn and ready to consider different ideas with an open mind — you would probably leave with twice the knowledge in programming and heightened confidence in your coding and teamwork skills.

If you want to feel prepared to win the hackathon, you could attend hackathon preparation workshops if they are available nearby. Workshops similar to UCLU Tech Society’s Hackathon Ready will tell you what to expect at a hackathon and teach you the basics of programming languages and APIs frequently used at hackathons. Having these basic skills, although not required, would be a great way of preparing not only for a hackathon, but also becoming a more proficient programmer. Furthermore, participating in workshops like these provides an opportunity to meet like-minded people who are possibly at the same skill level as you are. If so, get together to practice programming or talk about your interest in the technology industry during your free time.

To help you get started looking for hackathons to join, here is a list of upcoming hackathons around the UK (but do not limit yourself to these!):

HackTheMidlands…………….. Birmingham 1st to 2nd October 2016
Porticode……………………….. London 22nd to 23rd October 2016
Hack Manchester..………...….. Manchester 29th to 30th October 2016
HackNotts……………………… Nottingham 26th to 27th November 2016
Local Hack Day UCL………….. London 3rd December 2016
HackLondon…………………… London 25th to 26th February 2017

Well, that’s it! I hope that you are now able to sign up for and go to your first hackathon being way more informed than I was! Most importantly, have lots of fun!

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