As I am wrapping up my final year as an undergraduate student, I have taken some time to reflect on everything I have learned throughout college. The biggest influence in my college career? Hackathons. Going to them, participating in them, and organizing them.
I was fortunate enough to be an organizer for SB Hacks IV and SB Hacks V, a 36 hour hackathon event hosted on the campus of UC Santa Barbara. My experience with SB Hacks started since I started out as a freshman in college who was seeking to explore a new field. SB Hacks inspired me to attend more hackathons and eventually organize Spectra 2.0 (2018), which is the Bay Area’s all women hackathon! Both hackathons hold a place dear to my heart.
Being on both sides of a hackathon has given me a unique experience and diverse skill set that I never expected to gain. If there is one thing I would tell my younger self to do, it would be to go to more hackathons near and far. I strongly encourage others to do the same. Not only was I able to meet incredible people from all over, I was able to envision myself in the world of technology and explore projects that I had never imagined before. Hackathons can be truly inspiring.
I can go on and on about hackathons, but here are some skills that I believe anyone can gain at a hackathon.
Being able to effectively communicate is an incredibly important skill that anyone should develop. Whether you’re at a hackathon with a friend or not, you have the unique opportunity to build a network with those around you. Whether you’re an organizer or a participant, being on a team allows you to share ideas with one another and provoke discussion to make decisions and achieve goals. It is also worth talking to people who might be more experienced in your field of interest. Whatever your role is at the hackathon, take advantage of the time to speak with active hackathon attendees, sponsors, or mentors and asking them questions. Utilizing your voice at an event this large can open up many doors for you! Plus, you’ll be able to pick up skills as a team player or a team leader.
Of course, what’s a hackathon without the tech? Besides discovering the latest hardware and applying new programming languages, hackathons encourage you to come up with creative solutions. It lets you think on the spot and grasp a better understanding of concepts when you discuss ideas with people around you. Whether you’re a mentor explaining a problem to a hacker, or a hacker providing an insight towards a topic and asking questions You’re applying your knowledge of technical skills and problem solving through brainstorming and visualizing. Discover different ways to interpret your code so that people around you can understand it.
Whether you’re running around as an organizer to wear different hats, answer logistical questions, serve food, or participating as a hacker to get the minimum viable product completed by submission time, everyone at a hackathon has the opportunity of working in a fast paced environment. This is a great skill to practice because it is important to be able to adapt to new changes that arise in any situation. An example could be thinking of a new solution on the spot and seeking new and creative solutions that can inspire further discussion or ideas. Plus, it builds character and allows one to assess how they might act in a time sensitive situation. The ability to work fast and complete different tasks can help anyone throughout life!
Of course, there are many more skills anyone can learn. Take some time to reflect on your own hackathon experience and help others develop those skills whenever you get the chance! Let’s help each other grow and build our skill sets not only for the workforce and school, but through life.
– Diane Phan, RTC Fellow + UC Santa Barbara Senior
Photographer Credits: Nathan Kassira @natesexposure