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Attending a Hackathon with Social Anxiety: My Experience

Hackathons can be stressful and overwhelming, especially if you’re someone who has social anxiety. If you’d like to attend a TechTogether hackathon, but find it overwhelming to find teammates and put yourself out there, check out this story from a TechTogether Seattle participant, Caitlin Wall, who details what it’s like to attend a hackathon with social anxiety.

Photo from Caitlin Wall.

Hackathons. I admit that seeing that word invokes images of people frantically typing away at their computers, while trying to complete a project within a short time-frame.

I never attended a hackathon before, but had heard how they can be wild times filled with coffee-fueled overnighters and incredible growth.

My first hackathon experience at TechTogether Seattle, a hackathon open only to those who identify as female/non-binary, was actually quite different. I was nervous going in, primarily because I have social anxiety. I do enjoy working with others on projects, but purely social interactions tend to ramp up my discomfort.

So for me, the biggest obstacle to overcome in order to enjoy my hackathon experience wasn’t a lack of experience in tech. It wasn’t a fear of the unknown. It was a fear of people.

This event would need me to step far outside my comfort zone. Outreach? Networking? These concepts are something that I admittedly struggle with. My first thought after registering for TechTogether Seattle was, “Great, now I willingly signed up to interact with other humans, what have I done?” I may say this somewhat in jest, but social anxiety is quite serious. Interacting with other people can be a truly terrifying experience.

So how did I get through the hackathon, and what did I do to help alleviate my fears?

TechTogether set up the hackathon in a way that helped me overcome my feelings of anxiety, before it even began. For one thing, it was completely online. I did not have to physically be around a large group of people, as all of my interactions occurred through the Discord group, Zoom calls, or Twitch.

There are also benefits to in-person events, of course, but I won’t delve into that. For my first hackathon, attending an online event was a key to me being able to convince myself to give it a chance. TechTogether gave me a great virtual experience that was also a stepping stone to being able to attend an in-person hackathon in the future.

Another thing I appreciated about TechTogether’s set-up, is that they provided a lot of opportunities to form teams. There were channels (chats) in Discord designed for us to interact and meet each other. There were also team formation sessions where they helped folks form groups at the beginning of the hackathon, with lots of opportunities to get to know each other and decide who your group mates would be, if you planned on building a hack. I actually didn’t attend the team-formation sessions, surprisingly! I messaged someone after reading their introduction in a Discord channel, and they were in communication with two others. Before I knew it, I had a team of three lovely ladies!

Upon meeting my team, we discussed our goals for the hackathon. It turned out that we had three first-time hackers who wanted to attend workshops to learn new things. We also had a mixture of activities and responsibilities that we needed to spend time on outside of the hackathon. We knew it would be extremely difficult to create a full application with the time we had available, so we decided to make our hack a prototype and focus on creating a Figma file to showcase the design and functionality. Then, we spent extra time over the weekend working on bits of the code itself.

The more laid back attitude that my team had towards the hackathon was also quite helpful to me. I was able to take breaks when the social interaction of the event got a bit too much, and I knew my team would understand because we were open with each other about our expectations from the start.

My best piece of advice is to communicate your expectations and goals. Be as open as you can be. Everyone I met at the hackathon was very friendly, and the more you communicate, the better odds you have of finding the perfect team for yourself.

If you are considering attending a hackathon, I do think TechTogether is a great place to start. Whatever your feelings are towards hackathons, TechTogether creates an environment that feels friendly and open.

Interested in attending a hackathon and getting access to more articles like this one? Subscribe to TechTogether’s bi-weekly newsletter. 💡

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