After 24 sleepless hours and the incessant strain to resist caffeine and free junk food, my first hackathon, HackTJ, has officially concluded. I have always been curious about how binge coding for a large period of time, surrounded by some similarly-driven students, would result. After a brief recovery from my sleep-deprivation, I believe that it was a worthwhile yet odd experience.
We arrived at Thomas Jefferson High School at 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon and were greeted by hundreds of students piling their sleeping bags and pillows into the auditorium while greeters registered students and handed out t-shirts. After a brief introduction with little to no guidance, we were let loose to code, create, or play video games (what many of the attempted ‘projects’ degraded into). Two hours into attempting to learn Android, we jumped ship and retreated back to our comfort zone, web apps. Once we developed a rough idea for a project, we jumped right into coding, invigorated by our short-lived freshness and excitement. As the night went on we began to fade as volunteers came by with food and “swag” attempting to push us on towards completing our projects.
As the morning dawned, we managed to finish our website with plenty of time to spare. The most challenging part of the whole event was surprisingly not the creation of our website, but the presentations and pitches we had to give near the end. After more than 24 hours without sleep, we were expected to speak coherently and pitch our messy projects to professional developers and programmers. The first phase consisted of 54 tables spread out across the cafeteria, with judges wandering and questioning the multiple participants. After this stressful phase, the top ten projects were singled out to present on the stage in front of the 200 other students.
Surprisingly, we were chosen as one of the finalists and had the privilege of attempting to not embarrass ourselves in front of our peers, many of whom were much more talented and intelligent than ourselves. Adding to the suspense, we were slotted as the last presentation, giving us the opportunity to be intimidated by the other seasoned programmers. As the penultimate presentation came to a close, Brandon Wong and I were called up to try to convince the audience on the value of our project. We quickly traversed through our website (GavelRank, shown below), emphasizing the interactive map widget and databasing in order to impress the audience. It was a nice experience practicing presenting a project in front of a large group of people, and despite our tough competition I think we managed to do an adequate job describing our work.
The lack of sleep and overall bad feeling which settled in halfway through the second day of the event took away from my overall enjoyment of the event, but overall I have come to the conclusion that hackathons are a successful way of concentrating ideas and intelligence into a relatively short sessions of intense work and creativity