Why You Should Join a Hackathon and Ways to Get Involved

Over the weekend I participated in the NYC Coders Hack for #BlackLivesMatter. The 4 day (24 hours total) experience was every second put into it. Not only was it helping Black Lives Matter by accepting donations for the cause, the apps we were building were designed to help support the black community. Some are already deployed. I will link them at the bottom of the post.

Before I begin to tell you about why you should get involved in hackathons and how to do it, I must acknowledge the movement that we were working to support, Black Lives Matter, and George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless men and women that have been victim to police violence. I encourage you to join the fight against racial injustice and police brutality. To support the movement you can visit https://blacklivesmatter.com/ and read this article for more ways to support the black community.

NYC Coders Hack For #BlackLivesMatter

The hackathon was fully remote and although the technical aspects of managing 160+ people through Zoom was at times tough for organizers, the overall experience gave my teammates and I valuable experience that we will take into our next projects and our career. So here are a few reasons that you should get involved with Hackathon’s whether you are a new software developer, a senior developer, a designer or project manager.

The Community:

Over the course of the 4 days 160+ people in teams of 4 competed to see who had created the best app. Each team was given a designer and a product manager to help guide the process. The first 2 days (8 hours) mostly consisted of meeting the people involved, getting to hear some app ideas from black community leaders and getting to know your new team.

In addition, countless pitches were heard from the participants of the event. Each person who pitched an idea was made team leader and 3 others joined their team with the same tech stack (plus up to 2 shadows who could help). The community was vast and diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, career, tech stack and skill level. Making it an incredible incubator for ideas and learning experiences.

Cross Functional Experience:

Our team’s designer took our initial wireframe and turned it into an absolutely stunning looking product. We could not have imagine anything remotely close to what she was able to put together. My team and I are new developers and have never worked with a designer. The experience helped simulate what we would be doing on the job, taking the design team’s design and making it into a reality.

We also could not have done so without the direction of our Product Manager. Our team and I had worked together before on a product that we have been working on. We use a Trello board to manage ourselves and thought we were doing it well. Well, it turns out that we were making some big mistakes. Our PM was able to guide us in the right direction, showing us the correct way to run a Kanban board, using each card as one specific feature, instead of making each a technical piece. Within each feature we listed the endpoints and front end components we would need in a to do list. And we worked 2 people per ticket.

There were so many small things that we would not have known about the process had he not been there to guide our process.

Other Developer’s Perspectives:

While building our app our team used a tech stack of React.js and Ruby on Rails. One of our teammates was a Full Stack Academy student. Her perspective helped us solve problems that we may not have seen the answer to. Although she was less experienced than us, her coding habits were a bit different than ours and we were able to take away from it some valuable tools that we might not have come across had we not worked with her. She had not used Ruby or Ruby on Rails before and so she was able get a bit of knowledge about Ruby and Ruby on Rails.

Other teams with other tech stacks were also able to explain what they were able to do with their tech stack. So it was a great way to learn about other stacks and what they are capable of.

New Technology:

One of the great things about coming up with an idea that you have to build in 24 hours is the absolute necessity to learn new technology quickly. Our team had only scratched the surface of using the Twitter API and Google Maps API. The weekend forced us to learn how the APIs worked extremely quickly since our app depended on them.

In the end we were able to use the APIs to their full potential and create something that was truly remarkable. We customized a google map with our color scheme and populated it with our data. On top of that each data point was fully interactive — clicking the point would bring up specific information about that point.

Meet People:

The networking opportunities at hackathons are endless. The NYC Coders Hack for #BlackLivesMatter had 160 people involved. Whether you are the “find them on linkedIn and add them” or the “talk first then add” there were tons of people to help you expand your network. Although many participants are brand new developers on the job hunt, a bunch were already employed. The PMs were actually mostly senior developers taking on the PM role. So while it may not directly lead to your next job, you never know what just meeting new people could lead to.

Support a Great Cause:

We’ve all felt helpless in the past few weeks regarding the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed. Many expressed their gratitude to the organizers because they were sidelined from protesting due to medical issues or not being near a protest. This hackathon, they felt, was their form of protest. Here we all used our skills to positively affect the black community directly. One app in particular was a Google chrome extension that allowed users to find black owned alternatives to Amazon products. There were about 20 other apps that had similar ideas, some that are already deployed (see below) and more will be deployed in the coming days.

How to Get Involved:

To get involved with a hackathon you could head to meetup.com and search hackathons. Or you could go to devpost.com which is a site dedicated specifically to hackathons.

https://devpost.com/

Meetup.com

Some of the amazing apps from NYC Coders Hack for #BlackLivesMatter

Vi — http://vi-bot.surge.sh/

Tab for Black Lives Matter

Shop Equal — https://shop-equal.netlify.app/

Rights Hub — https://rightshub.netlify.app/

Youth Connection — https://youthconnection.netlify.app/

Gritty Garden — http://gritty-garden.herokuapp.com/

Info about the hackthon I participated in:

NYC Coders https://www.meetup.com/nyc-coders/events/271029282/

NYC Coders — https://www.meetup.com/nyc-coders

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Please follow me on twitter @thedrewprint and connect with me on LinkedIn. Please join in the fight against police brutality and racial injustice.

Software Developer — Game Creator — Let’s work together! Reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter @thedrewprint

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