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My First Hackathon - Before the Hack

I've never done a hackathon before. (Signed up twice...does that count?). I love ideas and I love creating, so I decided to take the plunge and pop my cherry at a civic hackathon for the City of Atlanta. When a local meetup group offered prep and pitch practice the week of the hackathon, I jumped at the opportunity to learn all that I could to help get me prepared for the big day. What I learned at the meetup not only made me feel ill-prepared, it downright made me want to change my plans for the weekend.

The 411 on hackathons

At Women Who Code - Atlanta's Hackathon Prep and Pitch PracticeErica Stanley (co-founder of the group) walked us through a typical hackathon format, describing everything from who shows up at these things all the way down to tips and tricks for getting started and pushing through. She gave some great suggestions on how to prepare for the speed of the projects hackathon teams undertake: reviewing and getting comfortable with various technologies ahead of time, deciding on integration points and check-in times, and doing a mini product design sprint, just to name a few. Note to self: Save the Red Bull for late Friday night. 

We even had the privilege to see Erich S. Lee (organizer of the Atlanta Presentations and Communication Meetup) demonstrate how to pitch. After the presentation portion of the evening, Erica gave attendees the opportunity to come up to the front of the room and practice pitches for any project ideas they already had in mind. We also broke into small groups and participated in a mini-workshop where we were chose a problem to solve, weighing in business value, available data, and competing products.

Common theme for hackathon newbies

Since this meetup was hosted by a women's coder group, I wasn't surprised to see that most of the people there were developers. Many seemed fresh to the field (go women in STEM!), and as such, seemed a little intimidated by the prospect of having to produce working code on such a short timeline. Hell, I'm not a programmer and I was intimidated. "Can I just go and watch??" was a question I heard a few times at the meetup—and I was one of the people asking. Fear of the unknown, fear of failing, lack of confidence... I'm guessing all of these sat at the root of that question. As much as agile software development has taught me to inspect and adapt, the thought of doing this on the fly with random strangers while drudging through a half-assed business plan on only a few hours of sleep did NOT make me feel excited about the coming weekend.

I look forward to part two of this blog post where I'll share my reflections on my first hackathon. I'm hoping I'll report that, despite the fears of the unknown (and potential lack of sleep), I survived the experience with a big, proud smile.