A 30something’s First Hackathon


Should I have a team in advance?

I did not, and I feel like this can go either way. My hackathon (and it sounds like most) have team formation events to help you join a team or add members. We were communicating through a discord server that had a designated “team formation” channel that opened up the day before the hacking started. Here people were introducing themselves individually and as partially formed teams looking for missing pieces. This is how I found my team—I reached out to a two person team and offered up my services as an addition. I then brought in someone else that I found afterwards with a complimentary skillset, completing our team of four.

A screenshot at a beginner’s event!

Is it intense?

It’s as intense as you make it! I, for one, really leaned into the “-athon” of it all. I knew I wanted to attend as many events as possible, and to help build a working application. So I made sure I worked out hard at the gym Friday before it started, but I barely left my computer after that until it was over. Seriously, I didn’t leave my tiny studio apartment for the entire 36 hours and barely took breaks. My boyfriend was horrified.

My weekend

Friday: Opening ceremony event. Code code code. First time hacker seminar. Code. Meet with team to get on the same page. Start over because we weren’t on the same page. Boyfriend made dinner. Thank you, amazing boyfriend. Code some more. Jackbox games with fellow hackers! Sleep.

Am I too old?

No. This felt clear almost immediately. Sure, there were a lot of high school, and college-age hackers (and event leaders) but no one cared AT ALL how old anyone was. If anything, my life experience was an asset.

Do I need any particular skillset?

No! Anyone can contribute to a team. Under such a time crunch, we would have been happy to have someone who could have just written the ReadMe! I could have joined a team of python coders, written one function and been proud. I’ve never written a line of python in my life and would have spent the weekend learning a new language. And here’s something I didn’t consider in advance—your data doesn’t have to persist. Your app doesn’t have to be full stack. It doesn’t even have to work! A lot of teams submitted projects that were very cool concepts with wireframes and designs. It could be anything from a repl.it CLI app to a single page of beautiful HTML & CSS. It all depends on what you think you and your team are capable of getting done over the time provided. And you can still win categories! Check out the categories & challenges in advance, you might be surprised. My hackathon had prizes for the team with the most first-time hackers. A prize for the most high-school hackers. My favorite award was that for the biggest fail! Love that.


MAKE A GOAL. The first partner I turned down gave me a great piece of advice that I will take with me to every hackathon: decide what you personally want to get out of it. Do you want to win? Do you want to meet people and have fun? Do you want to attend as many events as possible? Do you want to build something that works? Is there a specific challenge that peaks your interest? Focusing on what YOU want to get out of it will help you choose a team (or opt out of the hack) and feel good about it.


These were my reasons initially:

  1. I’m trying to put myself out there as a Software Engineer.
  2. I’m finding the job hunting process soul crushing and wanted to let loose a bit.
  3. I can’t resist an opportunity to try something new.

But I got so much more out of it then I imagined!!

  1. I learned a ton in a low stakes environment. I put so much pressure on myself in job interviews, and while yeah, I still really pushed myself, I knew it was all just for fun.
  2. And it WAS fun. My team was awesome and when we pulled things off as a group it was a craaaazy high!
  3. It was the git crash course I needed. I’m such a noob—working with a team on a project in git like this under such a time crunch helped me push through some of those fears. I still don’t feel like I’m swimming in the deep end, but it forced me to paddle around a bit more.
  4. I now have answers to a whole slew of job interview questions in regards to working on team projects I didn’t have before.
  5. I’ve been coding in such a bubble. I learned a lot from my teammate’s perspectives on the code I was working on and their approaches to solving those problems.
  6. More confidence—hey, WE WON! I found a great team, contributed a lot to the project, we got it finished, deployed, submitted in time and we won our category!!!



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