TechTogether
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TechTogether

Learning How to Have Fun at a Hackathon

Neala Mendoza

Three years ago, I never would have thought I would be participating in hackathons in my free time. Now that the events are virtual, I have one lined up almost every weekend. I don’t consider myself naturally-talented at programming and the skills don’t come easily to me. However, hackathons are helpful in practicing and improving my coding skill sets. I attended TechTogether New York a few weeks ago but did not create a project. I was more interested in the events offered such as the introductory coding and career workshops.

After seeing how supportive the mentors and organizers were, and being in the Discord community with hackers of different levels, I thought this would be a great hackathon to try a project without feeling intimidated with my skill set. I was right! From the opening ceremony, I was welcomed into a community of hackers of all backgrounds and I was excited to be there. I was surrounded by supportive and amazing women and non-binary individuals who wanted to see each other succeed.

One of my favorite things about this hackathon was working with my best friend Mhealyssah Bustria. We met in our first computer science course and have been friends since! It was Mhea’s first time attending a hackathon, so I recommended we do TechTogether Seattle. Although she was nervous in the beginning, she felt comfortable being in an environment that focused on trying to learn new things instead of worrying about being perfect or judged.

Together, we created PawsTogether, a website where friends can pause during their busy days and take care of their furry friends! When implementing our designs, we learned a lot of new things that we could do with HTML and CSS, such as making a working navigation bar and customized buttons. We were also able to learn how to add Javascript into our HTML files such as functions, dates, and page redirects. We stayed up late to finish our project and our hard work paid off because we were one of the winners of the Wolfram Award Sponsored by Wolfram Language! Seeing Mhea succeed in winning at her first hackathon was the highlight of the hackathon, I was proud of what we accomplished together!

Mhea and Neala

When I wasn’t’ working on my project, I was attending workshops. Some of my favorites included: Intro to UI/UX from Grace Ling, Using Swift to make a Kanye West lyric Generator App with Stephanie Chiu, and the Wonsulting session with Jonathon Javier and Jerry Lee! I learned so much in these workshops like new technical skills and how to land my dream job. I plan on applying all my newfound knowledge to all my future projects.

I also met a lot of amazing individuals through this hackathon and enjoyed getting to know my new connections and seeing their creations. I had the chance to talk to Stephanie Chiu and ask her about how she got into design before her current position. She gave me some amazing advice, such as trying to get into the mind of the user and what they’re experiencing using your product! I am interested in going into UI/UX design and her advice helped me think a lot about how I wanted the design for this project to look, so thank you very much Stephanie! I will definitely learn from this experience and see how I can improve my design skills.

Welcome Page of our Hackathon Project

Many people think that you need to learn specific things to participate in a hackathon. TechTogether proved that anyone with any background can learn and create a project. It gets frustrating when I’m up all night learning new technology or my program isn’t working, but I would remind myself that the purpose of attending is to have fun and learn something new. My advice for those who plan to attend a TechTogether event is to remember that completing a project is not the most important takeaway from a hackathon. There are so many opportunities to learn with introductory-level workshops, networking events, and social events like playing games or watching a movie.

Technology is always evolving. Even those in the industry are still learning, so there really is no such thing as someone being smarter than you or not being “smart enough”. Companies want individuals with diverse backgrounds and unique thinking, so there is definitely a place for everyone! It’s also important to ask questions if you’re struggling. I remember seeing a social media post where it said “Someone who asks a question is a fool for five minutes. Someone who doesn’t ask a question is a fool forever.” Believe me, you will not look stupid. The mentors are there for a reason and want to help you with anything you struggle with. You will be in a safe space and no one will judge if you need some extra guidance.

Whether you create an amazing project or just attend the events, you should be very proud of yourself for just signing up! I had such an amazing time at TechTogether Seattle and look forward to attending TechTogether Atlanta and the next event TechTogether has to offer!

Some photos of our project, PawsTogether! View more on our Devpost: https://devpost.com/software/pawstogether

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