What it's like to attend a Hackathon for the first time


This week I went to my first ever hackathon.

What is a hackathon, you might wonder? Well, if you Google it, you’ll get something like “an event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.”
 
You might have an image of a bunch of nerdy guys in a dark basement, hunched over brightly lit screens and furiously typing away some Matrix-esque code comprised of zeroes and ones. This is definitely not the case for this hackathon.

Happy hour was held at the Atlassian Austin offices.

Enjoying drinks with the group at the happy hour!

Quite a big turn out for the happy hour on Friday.

 

This was the first ever Austin Diversity Hack, hosted by Women Who Code.

Women Who Code is a nonprofit dedicated to helping women get into tech and promoting diversity in the tech industry. Individuals from all backgrounds invited to come create something great together. In just one short weekend, we aspired to create a minimum viable product—a working application of some sort.
 
On Friday evening, September 11, 2015, we first met at the Atlassian offices here in Austin, TX. I have to say, their space is absolutely gorgeous! Here, we mingled and formed the teams we’d work in through the weekend.
 
There were individuals with all levels of experience: some experts, some totally new to tech. Designers, coders, business folk, and volunteers who were just eager to watch us work.
 
We talked tech, we talked team work, and most importantly, we had fun! The night closed with a few pitches from a small number of individuals, just a taste of the great work to come.

 

Early Saturday morning, about 8:00am or so, we were to begin planning and working on a product that we would complete roughly 30 hours later.

The actual event took place at Capital Factory, on the 16th floor of the Omni building. Capital Factory is a coworking space, accelerator, and incubator that is hugely popular in Austin. They’re almost always at 100% capacity! Their space is state of the art and very fun to work in.

Holly Gibson keeping spirits and energy high!

Holly Gibson keeping spirits and energy high!

The Transgender Health team hard at work on their app.

JP, giving his final presentation for his team's app. 

JP, giving his final presentation for his team's app. 

I formed a team with my friends Leah and Dennis Bartlett, and with Erica Forget, who we met at the happy hour. Our collaboration would create Co.Nomad – an app for people to find other people to cowork with, anywhere. It uses geolocation to allow people to “check in” onto a map. From this map, other people can see where you’re at and that you’re available to cowork. At the coffee shop, the library, even sitting outside at the park!

 

As of right now, you can see a conceptual prototype of our app online! Check it out.


With Dennis and his 17 years experience as our coding mentor, we built our idea as a mobile app using the Ionic Framework. Ionic is built on something called Cordova, which allows you to build mobile apps for iOS and Android using web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Ionic also uses NodeJS, AngularJS, and MongoDB.
 
This may sound like complicated code stuff, but it was really a lot of fun! We spent Saturday getting ourselves familiar with Ionic and getting our code setup on Github. Github enabled us to work on the same files simultaneously without overwriting one another. It also allowed us to make our code public and utilize versioning.


Sunday morning, we started racing towards the finish line.

Beginning again at 8:00am, we completed our app and created an awesome presentation. At 2:30pm we stopped working and pushed our code into Github, then began preparing for our final presentation at 4:00pm. Drinks and snacks were had in celebration as the afternoon came to a close.
 
The presentations were incredible! All of the teams worked really, really hard and accomplished some really great work over the weekend. We had some awesome sponsors like Google, GoDaddy, AT&T, and IBM. Teams created all sorts of different applications—like a mobile app for bird watchers, and a website to help transgender individuals find medical services.

From left to right: Holly Gibson (organizer), Jacquelyn Chastain, Erica Forget, Dennis Bartlett & Leah Barltett

 

My team won best UI/UX for our app, Co.Nomad!

All of our hard work paid off! We won for Best UI/UX against over a dozen very talented teams. Prize was $100 cash to split between us and a tiny GoDaddy remote controlled drone—something I had my eyes on since they announced it. I still haven’t figured out how to fly it…
 
Overall, the experience was insanely fun and really valuable to me. I really look forward to taking on this kind of work in the future. I’ll definitely be going to future hackathons!

 

 

Photography credit goes to Women Who Code. Images were pulled from the Facebook page for this event.

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