My First Hackathon: Aditya Geria — Director of Sponsorship
I first heard about hackathons during my senior year of high school. At the time, I was already pretty committed to computer science. I had taken three computer science courses at my high school, including AP computer science. I was also the founder of the high school game development club, and I was doing well with it overall. I graduated from a high school which was on the bleeding edge of competitiveness, so when my friends and I heard about HackRU in the spring of 2014, we thought this would be a great way to learn new skills and win some prizes for our resumes.
In a surprising twist of events, my friends ended up not being able to attend, so I was stuck at HackRU alone. I took this as a sort of challenge, and a push to make new college friends at Rutgers (where I knew I’d be coming) and meet new people. I kinda walked around, saw the mountain of swag from the sponsors and started hoarding it all. Coming from high school, and never really getting free stuff before, I really treasured this experience of being able to walk up to sponsor tables and just take stuff.
After the opening ceremonies, Mike Swift (CEO of MLH and Rutgers alum) was holding the team building session, and I thought this would be the best option if I was going to make the most of this event. At the team building session, Mike had all of the people with ideas come forward, pitch their ideas and then had the crowd volunteer to work with that person on that idea. People around me quickly started picking off teammates. As it went on, I came up with a quick idea of something to work on — it was going to be a system for receiving emails you classify as “important” through a filter that you classify, as a text message. It seemed to resonate well with the crowd, and a surprising amount of people raised their hands. I ended up in a team in which one member was from Cornell, and the other two were Rutgers students.
With my new team, we sat down and started hashing out the idea more. We decided to call it SigniMail and we aimed to use the context.io API, a service which grants email access and tie it with twilio. I only knew Java, and I had no idea what an API was beforehand. That did not stop me from contributing to the project — I read up on what APIs were and how to use them, and picked up PHP, which was the language that my teammates wanted to work in. I didn’t go to many workshops because I was too busy taking advantage of the free food at the event (there was a lot), and I especially remember trying my first (and last) fat sandwich at midnight there. Out of all of this, I had learned about how to write demo-level code, how an API works, and some basic knowledge of how PHP works. We also worked on the website part at the event, where users can define “filters” for which emails get texted to them. I learned even more about how to build a website, what technologies are used, and how a website ties in with a backend. It was a lot to take during all of this, and thankfully the context.io representatives were available and were wonderfully helpful — they responded instantly to any questions we had, and solved any issues we ran into with their API.
My biggest takeaways from my first hackathon were making new friends, learning about a world of computer science outside of what I would be learning in class, and seeing the service based side of tech. Also the t-shirt, swag and stickers were nice :P
I didn’t immediately get involved with organizing HackRU when I came to Rutgers, yet I still attended as a hacker every semester. I’ve also traveled to other hackathons with friends, including ones at Yale (where I again worked with strangers), and at Princeton. I’ve always had great times at hackathons, and each one is uniquely run. All the organizers are talented, dedicated individuals who care about the tech community and want the best for their event. Then, starting Fall 2016, I became an organizer and director for the sponsorship team. HackRU has been a part of me since senior year of high school and throughout my career at Rutgers. It’s hard to brush off this amazing event that happens every semester.
I have a lot to say to first time hackers. Don’t be afraid to work with new people! Don’t be afraid to start working on that idea you think is “too hard” because chances are. You’ll either find someone who’s good at working with that technology or you’ll figure out how to work with it over the course of 24 hours. And definitely do not be afraid to ask for help — students around you will be glad to look at your code and help you debug that nasty error or mentors will be around to try to guide you to the right direction.
Aditya Geria is the Director of Sponsorship for HackRU XII. He is a junior at Rutgers University studying computer science. He is also an avid electric guitar player.