Two weeks ago – April 1, 2016. It’s about 9:00pm on a Friday night, and I am already fast asleep. I have a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. I participated in my first hackathon! So let’s rewind to about 30 hours ago and look at all the ups and downs of this 26 hour event.
1. Must be something in the atmosphere
The energy of the environment is very unique in the fact that you can almost feel the creativity and innovation flowing through the air. As you walk through the large, open room you can see all the teams working furiously at their desks and whiteboards. Stepping into this atmosphere was an exciting start to the event.
(Above: LehighHacks prior to the start of the event.)
2. Let’s Get Down to Business
March 31 – 4:00 to 12:00am. After the introductions and presentations from our awesome sponsors (like IBM, Wells Fargo, Lutron, Microsoft, and more),the students got into their teams and decided their projects. Sponsors had optional challenges for teams to solve and earn great prizes, or students could work on their own inventions. The real work begins.
There’s a lot of confusion about what goes on at hackathons. Many people think it’s creating code to break into these complex, hypothetical systems. However, hackathons are really events where you can come up with an idea (one that you’ve thought about before or one you’ve just created at the event), and you have the opportunity to crank out the work on this project with the benefit of equipment provided and available assistance from top-notch professionals.
(Above: Team 18 created a fort to serve as their workspace. They’re just getting started.)
April 1 – 12:00am to 6:00am. It’s that time of the hackathon where you’ve been working on your project for hours and all of a sudden you’re faced with this problem that is impossible or you are unable to finish it before the hackathon ends. You’re extremely tired, and you can’t seem to figure this problem out. At this point, all your efforts seem hopeless, and you’re wondering whether or not to abort your mission entirely.
(Above: Students take a nap during the late hours of LehighHacks.)
April 1 – 6:00am to 12:00pm. As you face this huge problem, you realize that there’s a way around it. Your idea is not what you originally planned, but it’s a fast and easy way to get the job done in time for judging. Therefore, you hack your way around the problem. This is why it is called a hackathon. This is the time where you push yourself towards the finish line.
(Above: Professor Spear and students do push ups for some much-needed energy.)
5. Final Product Presentations and Awards
April 1 – 4:00pm. T-minus 2 hours until you can go home and sleep. But before you look ahead to your hibernation from the world, look back at the past 24 hours and see all that you’ve accomplished. You’ve had your idea, you hit the ground running with your original plan, and you found a clever way around your problems. Now you have your final product which you will present to the judges.
One of the things I appreciated the most about the hackathon was the great, easy networking opportunities. Because you have a project to present, you avoid all the awkward middle conversations. I’m very grateful to have met some impressive representatives of prestigious companies.
Would I do it again?
Without a doubt, yes. Despite my fatigue and the stress that happens during the 12th hour of the event, my first hackathon was extremely rewarding. Not only did I get to collaborate with individuals on a cool project (a resume-worthy experience, by the way), meet professionals within my field, and see some other awesome projects, but I also got to do all of this for free! A hackathon is an awesome event that greatly increases your experience in computer science.