My company recently held our first ever virtual hackathon. This was both my first virtual hackathon and my first hackathon with this company (I started this job a few weeks after the 2019 hackathon). My first ever hackathon, which I did with my last company, was a bit of a mixed experience, and I wasn't really sure how this hackathon was going to go.

Going into the event, I wasn't sure if I wanted to work alone or with other people or what kind of project I was interested in working on. We had a spreadsheet of projects that people wanted to do, and looking over the ideas, there were one or two that I thought were interesting, but nothing I was 100% into. Plus, I wasn't sure where I would fit into the dynamic of a group (since I sometimes don't feel like I fit in well at work), and I really didn't want to end up being uncomfortable with my group.

The Kickoff

The hackathon started on a Wednesday afternoon with a kickoff and happy hour. Our (all-female!) hackathon committee introduced the event, and each project gave a short introduction of their project and their plans. After that we went into breakout rooms - each project had a room where team members and interested potential team members could go to talk about the project. The event ended with a happy hour.

During the presentations, one of the groups mentioned a pivot in their direction and suggested an idea that very much caught my attention. It was one of the projects that had interested me a bit, so I decided that that project would be my first choice. I joined their breakout room, knowing that if I felt uncomfortable with the group dynamic, I could check out a different project. Thankfully, the group seemed receptive to having me there and I was very interested in the discussions they were having about the project, so I committed to being part of this group and this project.

Day One

Starting off the first day, I wasn't really sure what to work on. One of my teammates had already set up a basic app for us to start with (based off of an existing app), but I wasn't sure what exactly to do from there. Our discussion at the kickoff led me to believe that we might want some data visualization, so I started working on integrating a charting library I had used on a previous project, hoping that we would have an occasion to use it.

We had a team check-in mid-morning, and at that meeting we brainstormed what each person would do. I took on a task that was somewhat separate from everyone else's work, but used data that came from the rest of the team's work and incorporated the charting library I had been playing with earlier. I didn't really have any designs or ideas what I needed to do, so I focused on listing the data that we would eventually want to display and ensuring that I could display that data in a way that made sense.

After my lunch break, I saw that our team's designer had sent out some basic wireframes. Most of the focus was on the work being done by the rest of the team, but it had some basic information on what data my part of the project should be displaying, so I used that to influence the direction of my work. I started building out what I thought the data might look like, knowing that this was just a rough draft and I might have to start from scratch after I had new designs.

We did an afternoon check-in, where our designer shared some awesome designs. She hadn't yet gotten to the part of the project that I was working on, but I shared a screenshot of what I had done so far and got some positive feedback on that, so I continued what I was doing. At this point some of my teammates had made data available for me to work with, so I spent some time connecting that data to my part of the app. We had a happy hour scheduled for 5pm, so I called it quits around then and participated in the happy hour.

At the end of the first day, I thought my team's project was interesting and I enjoyed the work I was doing, but I felt disconnected from my team and felt like what I was doing was more of a solo project and not really a group thing.

Day Two

By the start of day two, most of my teammates had made significant progress on their work, and I was able to rely on that work to add the expected functionality to my part of the project, but at this point I was still without designs and just guessing what the UI would look like. We had a morning check-in, and our designer said she would prioritize getting designs for my work. She had some basic designs done not too long after that meeting, so I was able to modify what I had done to fit her design. I was making good progress.

My teammates also seemed to be making good progress, and it really seemed like we would have a great project to present at the end of the event. I called it quits a little early in the day because I had other plans (as did some of my teammates), but I figured I'd spend a few hours over the weekend finishing things up.

Presentation Day

While the hackathon officially ended on Friday, we weren't presenting our projects until Monday, so I took some time over the weekend to finish my work. By the time I logged on to my computer on Sunday, our designer had finished the designs for my part of the work, so I was able to finish that up. I didn't really have much to do on Monday, but I pitched in with reviews when they were needed, and when we had our final team check-in, it seemed like we were in really good shape. We made a few more changes, and then one of my teammates was able to get a working version of our app available for our product manager to demo before our presentation started (literally right before the presentation started).

The presentation went well. Our PM was able to demo all of the functionality (it was great that it all worked as expected, because not every team had that happen) and based on the comments in the chat, it seemed like our project was getting great feedback. It was nice to see positive comments and to see all of our hard work over the course of the hackathon come together into a functional app.

The Aftermath

The entire company voted for the winners, and voting lasted for about a week. As of when this blog is going to print, the winners have not yet been announced (and I'm going to miss the announcement because I'm on vacation the day they announce the winners). There are four categories, and I'm hoping we win at least one of them - but it's going to be tough, since there were a lot of fantastic projects.

Whether or not we win (and I hope we win, especially because the prizes are great and I know some of my teammates are excited about them), I'm glad that I was able to work with a good team and be part of creating something interesting. It didn't challenge me as much as some other projects might have, but it was interesting work and I think as a team we did do something out of the ordinary that had some challenging parts. Overall, I'd say this was a decently good hackathon experience.

Me and Hackathons

Going into this hackathon, I wasn't sure if I wanted to participate in the hackathon. I'm glad that I participated, but I'm not sure I really gained anything from it. I worked with a group that was mostly people I've worked with before on a project that relied on an app I had recently worked with. We used a new (to us) technology a bit, but I didn't really work on that part of the project very much. I also felt like my part of the work was disconnected from the rest of the group's work, which I think contributed to my lack of excitement about the work.

After my first hackathon, I was excited to jump into my next one. But I think part of that was because I didn't love the work I was doing at the time, and I was excited to work on something different. I'm not quite as enthusiastic after my second hackathon. This hackathon wasn't bad, it just didn't feel like anything out of the ordinary. When next year's hackathon comes around, I don't know if I will participate. It will probably depend on what projects are out there. I know that if I do participate, I want to make an effort to work on something that challenges me more. I want my next hackathon to be a learning experience, not just a chance to do more of the same thing I do every day.