Oh, the Hackathons You’ll Go!

8 months ago on a Monday morning, I sat on the lobby couch waiting for someone to come get me. As I carefully observed every person that walked by, I noticed a tall guy wearing a green hackathon shirt. Three minutes later, the same guy reappeared and approached me. “Li?” That was the first time I met Swift. Unlike others who’ve met him at hackathons, I met him on my first day at Major League Hacking (MLH), the official student hackathon league. I currently run operations at MLH. I’ll save that story for another time. Preferably over cake and coffee.

Besides our love for sushi and the Red Power Ranger, Swift and I both attended Rutgers (I later transferred to SBU), which explains why he highly recommended that I attend HackRU. I didn’t know what to expect at my first hackathon. 500+ attendees in one open space for 24 hours. Woah, do people sleep? HackRU was definitely an eye opening experience. As attendees checked in, they rushed over to our table asking if they can reserve an Oculus Rift from our hardware lab. I remember asking my colleague what is an Oculus Rift. I read about it but never seen one. Let alone, lend one out at a hackathon.

Hackers came up to me with their laptops asking for help. I smiled and explained that I’m the non-technical one in my team. “You see that person in the navy shirt that says Gottfried? He can help you” was my response. HackRU was overwhelming because everything was so fast-paced and I had no idea what I was doing! I’m sure many can relate. Truth be told, no one knows what they’re doing and it’s okay. It’s per-fect-ly okay to be clueless at a hackathon. Time to bust out of your comfort zone and get uncomfortable. Don’t know something? Ask for help. Don’t know anyone. Introduce yourself to the person next to you. I attended HackRU not knowing anyone besides MLHers. Less than 24 hours, I made new friends. I lost count of how many people I talked to and high fived that weekend.

Within the next month or two, I saw familiar faces and new faces at other MLH sanctioned hackathons. I attended HackNY, HackPrinceton, Wildhacks, PennApps, and HackHers. Each hackathon is different in its own way. I’m always inspired by the individuals I meet at these hackathons. It’s never about where you go to school, what you study, or how many programming languages you know. I honestly can care less. Walk me through the project(s) you plan to work on. Let’s talk about the craziest ideas imaginable! Your biggest wins from a hackathon are the new people you meet, the new skills you learned, and the overall experience. It’s never about the prizes.

To those that are hesitant in attending a hackathon for whatever reason it may be, I encourage you to experience it once. Bring a friend! The only prerequisite is your curiosity. Hope to see you at a hackathon soon!

I encourage you to share your first hackathon story. #MyFirstHackathon

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