After my first hackathon, I’ve come to realize that aside from being free to make whatever your heart desires just with some code (though lots of it), hackathons create a perfect environment to GSD or “get shit done.”
I went to the Facebook SoCal Regional Hackathon on Friday with a friend, but we both had our own agendas. While he was planning to finish up a little bit of CS homework before diving into his personal project, I planned to work with some cool jQuery plugins I’ve been meaning to try out, since I haven’t had the time to experiment with web development tools in a while.
After signing in and finding that most of the seats were taken, we sat down near the back next to two UCLA students. We chatted for a little bit and found that none of us had prepared an actual hack for the event just yet, which was slightly reassuring. Though the returning champions from last year were just a couple of tables away from us, it was nice to know that people of all levels are getting involved with hackathons.
Soon enough, the two students next to us had formed a team with two other Bruins, while I continued to work with plugins and my friend hurried to get his CS homework done. From time to time, I listened in and chimed in on the UCLA team’s project, and found myself a little miffed since I decided to opt out of joining a team this time around.
But instead of throwing the towel in and going home, I decided to learn something completely new. Sure, I wasn’t creating a project from the ground up, but I was going to take advantage of this space and wanted to ride the productivity momentum that this environment was generating.
So no, I didn’t exactly “hack” the Facebook Hackathon, but I hacked it for my own benefit. Because, for the next couple of hours, using what I knew about HTML, CSS, APIs and Php, I worked through Tuts+’s Facebook Graph API tutorial, and managed to finish the whole project. Did I make something completely original? No, but in the time I was at the hackathon, I made my first *unofficial* Facebook app and learned how to integrate Facebook logins into just about any web app — not something I would’ve accomplished had I been by myself at my apartment.
I even won a pair of Facebook sweatpants during one of their hourly raffles.
What I’m trying to say is that just because you might not be a whiz programmer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attend hackathons. You might not be able to attend every hackathon out there — PennApps, for example, requires that you apply formally — but for hackathons that only ask that you RSVP, such as this one and the upcoming LA Hacks (I’ll see you there, if you’re going!), I absolutely encourage you to attend. The truth is that at most hackathons, there are always at least a couple of people who come to hackathons without a team, so don’t worry about not finding one.
And if you feel like you still need to hone in on some skills — just do it, but try to stay at the hackathon, so you get a feel for the environment and structure of a full-fledged hackathon. You’ll be better prepared for the next one.
What’s also amazing about hackathons is that for whatever reason, even if there is loud music playing and people chatting, everyone tends to get a lot done. One friend showed me his RescueTime log after HackTech, which calculated his productivity to be about 90% over a span of 16+ hours. Sure enough, when I opened up RescueTime on my computer, it said that I was being about 92% productive.
If you haven’t been to a hackathon yet, it’s definitely not too late. I might sound a little sappy when I say this, but a certain, unspoken camraderie is fostered among attendees through late nights, tired fingers and eyes, debugging frustration and not ever having enough snacks. It’s an irreplaceable experience that you can’t find anywhere else.