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TechTogether

My Experience at a Gender-Inclusive Hackathon

TechTogether continues to serve as a gateway for people of marginalized genders to enter the hackathon community and the broader tech community. Gender-inclusive hackathons afford folks from marginalized communities the opportunity to be heard and seen.

Read below a first-hand experience from Vishakha, a TechTogether Boston 2021 participant.

Photo from TechTogether Boston.

Before attending TechTogether Boston, I attended four other hackathons — three before the global pandemic and one before attending TechTogether Boston. What I really miss about in-person hackathons is the opportunity to have a panic attack in a novel hotel bathroom. Thrilling! Dear reader, if you have even the slightest curiosity about participating in a hackathon, keep reading.

Historically we’ve viewed intelligence as a “natural talent” that only a gifted few possess — especially “white, Anglo-Saxon males.” I can’t recommend you enough to attend hackathons that are exclusively for woman-identifying and other underrepresented genders in tech. Participating in a team of all female-identifying/non-binary team members who are more likely to identify with your experiences with tech or a supportive team, in general, can be life-changing.

Teams falling apart is typical in hackathons. Don’t worry; just make sure to attend team-building sessions (almost all hackathons have these). Here’s a secret: 90% of hackathon projects are some kind of app. Learning to code beforehand, as little as 3–5 YouTube videos on a web framework of your choice, will give you a really great headstart when the hackathon starts. If you can’t decide what framework you want to learn, check out React ;-)

Hackathons are not for building production-ready applications, and judges and organizers know this. Come up with a unique idea + pitch, and a basic prototype with React, and you are good to go. Some hackathons even allow you to submit Figma files. Here’s another secret, Figma has an option to view the app live, and you can use it in your pitch video to show the live functioning of your app. Figma is super easy to learn, and you can start using it after watching just one YouTube video.

Attending workshops during hackathons is usually a great idea, even if you are not a complete beginner. They are an opportunity to explore new tech frameworks quickly that you’ve wanted to but never got around to exploring. If you are unable to attend them live because of time zone differences, make sure you watch the recordings before the hackathon ends because you will never get around to watching them later.

Sponsor workshops are great for networking and learning how to use their APIs, which are quicker than coding everything from scratch. Here’s another tip. Make sure you update your resume the week before the hackathon. Some companies hire high school students and college freshmen during hackathons, and these positions might not be advertised on their websites. Who knows, they might be impressed by your ideas and offer you a chance to interview with them.

Ask for help. Ask for help from mentors, organizers, and other attendees. Hop on to Zoom with them too. No questions are dumb, and it’s better to ask them earlier as opposed to later. It’s okay to build a simple website and it's also okay to be more ambitious. You are doing it for yourself.

TechTogether Boston also had a very special prize for folks who attended the most workshops. I love how hackathon organizers are being more inclusive for beginners.

In the end, if you do end up working in a team, don’t forget to exchange contact information and maybe even invite them to future hackathons. I have seen a good amount of hackathon projects develop into non-profits, published papers, etc. However, even if you decide not to pursue the project further, remember that having fun is a big reward in itself.

I had a wonderful experience at TechTogether Boston. I worked alone for most of the hackathon and teamed up with someone at the end to help make the submission and the graphics. It might not look like a lot, but it was actually a tremendous help, and I got some time to catch up on sleep because of my teammate.

I also liked the open theme and the flexible structure of the hackathon with minimum requirements to qualify for prizes. Don’t forget to add your project to your portfolio, and I hope you will soon participate in your first hackathon.

As always, reach out to your community for anything at all; they are there to help you.

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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