"i failed to pull an all-nighter, so i went to sleep for 2 hours"

For the past 2 days, I’ve experienced my first ever Hackathon through a hardcore 30 hours coding session. The Hackathon, Battle Hack New York, was hosted by Paypal and the winner will compete in the World Finals in San Jose. For me and three other WDI coursemates, our mission was not to win any prizes; our goal was to participate, learn, and have fun. It was quite an experience for a junior developer, thereby I would like to share bits of it with everyone.

To kick it off on Saturday morning 9AM, everyone, which means developers, designers, and entrepreneurs, arrive and has a chance to pitch his or her idea by recording a short video. Based on the videos, the rest of the crowd would be able to form teams and started hacking right away. The WDI crew decided to work together because we wanted to build a product together through this first experience, and our idea was a parking spot sharing web app that allows anyone to price tag his parking spot for other users. We splitted up the work, Teddy was in charge of hooking up the Google Map API, Wesley was the front-end designer, whereas Zach and I engaged ourselves in applying the Paypal, Twilio, and Sendgrid APIs.

Tasks were allocated, so we started coding right after lunch. The first few hours was painful as the Paypal API was incredibly tough to implement, and we had to make a couple of trips to get assistance from many people, including Nick from Sendgrid and Jonathan from Twilio. If you ask me what’s the biggest thing I got out of this hackathon, I would tell you that we got familiar with a ton of APIs (the four above). After exhausting ourselves with tired eyes in the freezing room, the organizing team suddenly rushed into our room and announced that we’ve won the Best Idea Award with the parking spot app! It was unbelievable, shocking, and even overwhelming to learn about that because now, we are responsible to build a great product by tomorrow, as people are watching us! That thought passed through my mind but soon enough I was back to the excitement, celebrating our victory (haha) of winning four quad-copters among ourselves. The filming crew was absolutely fantastic as they came by many times to interview us about our experience, and we loved to share the journey with the rest of the world, with whoever wanting to start diving into software development.

Happy hours always flew fast, and all of a sudden it was past midnight and we did not get a lot of work done. I basically focused on connecting our application with Twilio and Sendgrid. I was pretty grateful that the two APIs were so much easier to implement than the Paypal API. Taking a short break by walking around NYC Alley became a routine and I saw many after many passed out on couches, whereas the luckier ones took spots in the nap center with air mattress. I was crashing by around 4AM and had to take an hour and half to recharge, when I returned at 6AM, that was when we started sprinting towards our finished product.

Everyone was working hard on his own parts, and we practiced a ton of git commands, finally came to realize how hard it is to do collaborative programming. The product slowly came together and we were feeling great about what we were able to build in the past 20 hours or so, considering we were only programming for five weeks. Not to our surprise, our story actually attracted people and the Paypal team was extra friendly to us, the media interviewed our story, and Generally Assembly actaully tweeted about us. To that point, we already made a pretty huge accomplishment in our part and we were happy to check out other people’s projects and to learn from them.

To wrap up my experience, I totally had a ton of fun at the hackathon. Everyone who wants to become a developer should totally participate in hackathons in any way. Even though our product was not quite up to standard, but it was beautiful in our eyes. I also came to realize the requirement of winning this kind of competition is to have high coding abilith. The idea does not matter as much in a hackathon, though it does matter in a startup competition. In a hackathon, the ability to demonstrate skills and to represent the city to join the World Finals was a big part. However, there is no need to get discourged by that because winning is not the major part of the experience. What I’ve learned in that 30 hours far exceeded anything, and not to mention we won quad-copters, raspberry PI, and a couple free tees!

After I went home, I passed out around 9PM on Sunday and slept til 8AM the next morning. It was an amazing sleep. I hope this sharing will tempt you enough to participate in the next hackathon near you.