Four years ago, I transferred from Rutgers Newark to Rutgers New Brunswick. I was fortunate enough to know that my some of my high school friends were still in New Brunswick so I hung out with them on most days. Two of my friends, Harsh and Sangini, had told me about hackathons and that there was one coming up in October. It was HackRU Fall 2013 and it sounded interesting to me. A 24 hour event focused on building things? Sounds like a great way to spend my weekend!
The night before HackRU, we threw some ideas in the air and decided on making an app that compared schedules to find gaps in between events where friends could hang out. We were going to make an Android app with Android Studio and use Rutgers’ API to look at someone’s courses. Seems simple enough right? I spent 19 hours looking at tutorials. Somehow, in all of those 19 hours, I didn’t really learn anything because none of it connected together.
I was disappointed in myself — I really wanted to come out of a hackathon having built something to be be proud of. The next hackathon I went to was McHacks in Montreal. I went alone because some of my friends had cancelled to work on school assignments. Knowing that I wouldn’t have as much help, I told myself I would work on something I’ve worked on before and could likely finish.
When I got to Montreal, I made some new friends from the University of Maryland: Patricia, John, and Mariel. They were working on a game with a Leap Motion where players scored points while following the gestures displayed on screen; it was like a Dance Dance Revolution for Leap and was aptly called “Leap Leap Revolution.” They asked me if I wanted to work with them, but I was determined to work on my game. Throughout the hackathon, I struggled to get XBOX controllers to work inside my game. I never actually finished the game.
Since then, I’ve been to more than 20 hackathons and I’ve made some cool things. I didn’t finish any project until my 9th hackathon at Hack The Planet. I didn’t build anything I was proud of until my 12th hackathon at HackBU. Looking back, the reason why I never built anything cool until my 9th hackathon was mainly because I was afraid of failing in front of others. I spent my first hackathon looking at tutorials when I could have asked a mentor to help me make an Android app. I spent my second hackathon on a game I would never finish because I didn’t want to slow down my friends.
What I didn’t truly understand back then was that hackathons are places that promote learning together. Everyone at a hackathon is good at something and bad at another. If I completely understood this, I probably would have asked for help and worked with others more often. Being afraid of failing in front of others stopped me from learning.
Despite this fear, I kept going to hackathons with the goal of being able to finish something new within the alotted time and present something I could be proud of. I eventually did, but it took a long 2–3 years to get here.
If I could give a first-time hacker advice, it would be something like:
Know your abilities — what you can and can’t do. With that, you can start by asking others how to do the things you can’t do. And it’s okay to fail — learning from our mistakes is one the best ways to grow as a person and a hacker.
Carlin is the Executive Director of HackRU XII. He is a senior double majoring in Computer Science and Information Technology and Informatics. He is an avid gamer and has written video game reviews at truepcgaming.com