Hackathon Survival Guide

If you’re already into the tech scene, then chances are you already know what a hackathon is. However, if you haven’t, the definition of a hackathon is as follows: it is, “a social coding event that brings computer programmers and other interested people together to improve upon or build a new software program.” Hackathons are great for improving your coding skills, learning more about technology, and coming up with ideas that can garner the attention of major businesses. GroupMe is one example of a hackathon idea turned multimillion-dollar acquisition. The prototype, which was created at TechCrunch Hackday, did not win any prizes but it did become successful later on. It was the experience of going that provided the creators with the inspiration needed to conceive the idea of GroupMe. Their success is one of the many reasons you should consider attending a hackathon. If you’ve never attended a hackathon, here are the top 17 tips for surviving your first one.

17 Tips for Surviving Your First Hackathon

1. ARRIVE EARLY

Person Jumping

The best thing you can do for yourself when attending a hackathon is to arrive early. If you’re attending a hackathon that’s a good distance away plan ahead and give yourself enough time to get there. For the most part, hackathons have many participants, all of whom are trying to arrive around the same time as you. Take this into account when planning your departure time and you should be good to go.

2. BE OPEN

Man Opening DoorsIf you decide to work in a team for the hackathon, being open-minded is crucial. There is nothing worse than working with someone who has no interest in understanding your point of view. Teams are a collaborative effort and in order to succeed, you must be willing to compromise.

3. BRAINSTORM BEFORE YOU GET THERE

Person Confused

If you’re given the project before the hackathon even starts, do your research and brainstorm. This saves you the trouble of having to desperately think of an idea on the spot. Instead, you get to focus on successfully implementing that idea in a timely manner.

4. THERE ARE USUALLY PRIZES

Although the experience of going to a hackathon should be enough encouragement to go on its own, it’s also good to remember that there are usually monetary prizes. If not, companies sponsoring the event tend to give away their own products as prizes. For example, at Technica in 2019, VR headsets and Google Home Minis were offered as incentives.

5. BRUSH UP ON CODING SKILLS

Cat Typing Really FastGetting some practice in beforehand is essential for keeping your coding skills sharp. Whether that be Java, C++, HTML, or CSS. Practice whatever language needed to implement your project successfully. Websites like Codecademy and Udemy are perfect for reviewing how to program.

6. MENTORS ARE AVAILABLE

There are usually mentors available to assist you, whether that be helping you fully understand the project or answering any coding related questions you may have. Mentors are volunteers who want to help you so please don’t be afraid to ask them questions.

7. TAKE LOTS OF BREAKS

Spongebob Taking A BreakPlease do not stress yourself out to the point of exhaustion. It’s nearly impossible to put out good work when your brain is fried, or your body is tired. That’s why you should take as many breaks needed to refresh your mind and body for the competition.

8. EXPECT COMMUNITY GAMES

Community games are held for participants to get to know each other and relax in between working. These are a great way to make new friends and have fun so if possible, you should consider taking advantage of them.

9. KNOW HOW LONG THE HACKATHON LASTS

Lady Pointing To Her WristThere are many different types of hackathons. Some last 24 hours, 36 hours, and even 48 hours. Know how long yours is and prepare accordingly. If it’s your first time going to a hackathon maybe a 24 hour one might be a good place to start. However, if you’re feeling ambitious maybe a longer hackathon is perfect for you.

10. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WORKSHOPS

Take advantage of the workshops that hackathons have to offer. More often than not, they provide beneficial information that can help with your current project in addition to your future ones.

11. THEY HAVE SLEEPING SPACES FOR STUDENTS

Animated Cat Yawning

Although sleeping spaces are usually provided, be sure to bring an air mattress and/or sleeping bag as necessary. Although some hackathons do provide air mattresses, don’t be surprised if there aren’t enough or if the ones they provide aren’t the best quality.

12. DO RESEARCH ON SPONSORS

Woman Holding Phone

Check to see if any of the sponsors for the hackathon are companies that you might be interested in working for. Some sponsors actually have internships or job opportunities available. Because of this, going to a hackathon puts you at a far greater advantage than most people who are also interested in those companies. It’s also a good idea for you to bring a few copies of your resume. Doing so shows those companies that you’re serious about working for them.

13. CHECK OUT DEMOS

At the end of a hackathon, there is usually a demo session of all the projects. Use this as an opportunity to look at what everyone else has made. Demo sessions are not only for company representatives. Participants are encouraged to look at projects aside from their own for innovative inspiration.

14. MOST HACKATHONS ARE FREE

Girl SpeakingAlthough most hackathons are free of charge, there are a few that may require a fee. This is rare but double-check that it’s free to be sure.

15. TRANSPORTATION MAY BE PROVIDED

Some hackathons do provide transportation. This could mean that they provide their own OR they refund your travel expenses. The refund process is that you have to pay your traveling fees at first, and then afterward they will refund you. Because of this, it is important that you hold onto all your traveling receipts so that they know exactly how much to refund you.

16. PACK LOTS OF SNACKS

Patrick Eating A Lot Of PattiesWhether you have any dietary restrictions or not, pack as many snacks as you can. Hackathons usually provide food for participants, however, if late-night cravings are a common occurrence for you or you simply cannot eat the food they have to offer, then it’s probably best that you bring your own snacks.

17. IT’S OKAY NOT TO KNOW A LOT OF CODE

Elmo Shrugging

If you have a brilliant idea but don’t how to create it, making a presentation is also acceptable. Making a visual presentation allows you to convey the idea you’ve come up with without the pressure of having the full code prepared. Even if you don’t have any code at all, presenting a few slides is better than presenting nothing at all.

For this article I’d like to thank Seidenberg senior, honors college student, and vice president of Women in Tech, Sammy Chen-Li for sharing her vast knowledge of hackathons! If you’re looking to attend a hackathon anytime soon, Pace University’s Women in Tech Club is actually having their very own hackathon called Sunflower Hack! It’s scheduled to take place Saturday, February 29th, 2020 from 9 am to 9 pm on the 2nd floor of 163 William Street. It’s an 8-hour hackathon open to all current undergrad and grad students at Pace. For more information please click here!

Fran Berman talks self-driving cars and data stewardship with Women in Tech

Fran Berman visited the Seidenberg Lounge in NYC on April 9th to discuss self-driving cars, data stewardship, and her latest projects on the social and environmental impacts of IoT. She spent time with the student-led Pace Women in Tech club, then sat in conversation with Professor Cathy Dwyer.

Fran Berman is an Edward P. Hamilton Distinguished Professor in Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University, and a Fellow of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.

Fran discussed her latest project which focuses on the social and environmental impacts of IoT. Her focus is on maximizing the benefits of IoT while minimizing risks. The most talked about point was the ethical structure of IoT.

Fran also took the time to explain data stewardship: “[data stewardship] is about creating a home for data that both takes care of it now and takes care of it in the future.”

The distinguished professor’s latest passion is IoT’s potential inflience on cyber/physical-biological systems. She explained that the intersection of the subjects, with the addition of artificial intelligence, is “both an amazing thing and a scary thing.”

Fran illustrated her point using self-driving cars and the ethical thought process behind them. She made the point that a self-driving car has to make the same decisions humans must make while driving, including what to do in instances of an imminent collision.

“Each one of us has an ethical framework,” she said, suggesting that one day perhaps self-driving cars (as an example) would be programmed to make decisions based on the individual’s moral configuration rather than a standardization. IoT could make this possible.

Fran also identified some of the largest issues that graduates will encounter in their careers: industries are not turning to technologists to be leaders, and women are challenged when finding their place in the technology industry. But if Fran can do it, so can any female computer scientist—she’s a living example of female leadership in the technology industry.

As for what the future of technology looks like, “hopefully this is what it looks like,” Fran stated, indicating the many female students in the audience. 

One piece of advice Fran offered was the importance of getting involved. It’s a huge learning opportunity—one that students can truly benefit from.

“If you have clubs here, become an officer of the club,” Fran advised. Becoming a club officer is a notable accomplishment. If you’re excited about something, then you should get involved with it.

“Waking up every day and feeling really excited about what you do . . . that’s another super important thing,” Fran added.

One of the most significant things Fran spoke about was the concept of failure as a good thing. Failure, Fran suggested, is just a part of the process of life. If you mess up, then that’s how you end up figuring out how to do it better the next time. Failure is expected and should be celebrated!

As an example, Fran spoke about her first job. “When I first got there, I had no idea how to do all the stuff I was supposed to do.”

“If you don’t keep at it, you’re never going to figure it out.”

The biggest piece of advice that Fran focused on was a single word: resilience. She outlined the ways that resilience makes a great leader.

“At the end of the day, don’t give up. Find your own heart and passion in it, find a network of people who can go through it with you and support you, be strategic, and be resilient,” she said. “It’s not always easy, but if it’s important to you it’s always worthwhile.”

As for Fran’s time at Seidenberg, she only had good words: “I had a blast. I think everyone here is wonderful.”

We were so lucky to have Fran at the Seidenberg Lounge for this intriguing and empowering discussion. We would like to thank Fran for taking the time to visit our campus for the WiT event.

Keep updated on the Seidenberg socials and follow WiT to hear about future events!

 

Pace Women in Tech is reaching out to young women in technology

There’s a female-central club on Pace University’s New York City campus that all women in technology fields should check out. Pace Women in Tech (WiT) is a Seidenberg organization that empowers young women technologists. WiT is led by President, Jennifer Rhau, and co-President, Sammy Chen Li. We got in touch with Jennifer to learn more about her and the club she heads.

Jennifer explained that she started going to WiT meetings during her first years at Pace: “in Seidenberg, we have a peer mentorship program for all freshman. In this program, one of our assignments is to go to a Seidenberg Club event with our mentor.”

It just so happened that Jennifer’s peer leader from her university introduction class was the then secretary of WiT. She learned about the club meeting from her peer leader and scheduled a time to attend the meeting for a class assignment.

“My mentor ended up canceling, but I went alone and loved the environment the club was based on. So I vowed [at] that first meeting with my friend Tiara to one day ‘rule Seidenberg’ with WiT,” explained Jennifer.

Flash forward to now, and Jennifer is the president of the organization. It seems her vow to “rule Seidenberg” with WiT has come true. But ruling comes with its own challenges.

“WiT has had very rocky beginnings where we met randomly and weren’t very established,” she explained. With her and Sammy’s leadership, the group will continue to strengthen immensely.

“We try to have very informal meetings, [and] we are always set up in a circle. When the [current] board took over this year, we decided our main goal was to create a safe, fun, supportive community. Everyone talks about everything. We just eat and talk, while we (the board) sneakily slip in helpful tools for navigating the workplace and school. In the future, we want to continue sneaking in more opportunities and information,” shared Rhau. “It’s very important to us that we don’t become a monotonous club.”

Under Jennifer and Sammy’s leadership, it is certain that becoming a “monotonous club” is out of the question. They both work tirelessly to make the club open and comfortable for everyone—even though the organization is dedicated to women. According to Jennifer, “everyone can join!” They certainly want everyone to see the work going on in WiT.

“You should join it for the community, but also because we are so supportive. Not only supportive in an emotional friendly way, but we share opportunities we find and things we’ve learned along the way,” Jennifer shared.

Overall, the organization is dedicated to empowering women in the technology industries. Their organization gives a safe space to women navigating an industry dominated by individuals who identify as male.

“It doesn’t always feel like it, but all STEM fields are almost taboo for women. Even [now] it’s so hard to be heard,” explained Jennifer. “Then, when we get farther along we start getting imposter syndrome. It’s always a climb, but if we get enough women into STEM fields, future women won’t have to feel the same way. It will be a norm and no one can say anything to make us feel unworthy.”

Jennifer’s work as president is going towards making sure that the incline for women who have to make the climb into this tough industry gets easier each year. Her vow to “rule” Seidenberg was realized with her current title at WiT. Her newest vow? To leave a legacy behind.

“I would love WiT to leave a legacy in Seidenberg,” Jennifer expressed. “We have another club at Seidenberg called [the Pace Computing Society] (PCS). It is involved in so many activities in Seidenberg. They even hosted the peer mentor project launch! I want that to be [WiT] in the future when I come back to visit.”

WiT will always carry an inclusive legacy, especially under the reign of Jennifer and Sammy. You can join WiT for meetings every other Monday in the Seidenberg Lounge 12:10pm to 1:10pm.

Follow WiT on Instagram (@PaceWiT) to keep up with all of their events!

Follow us on social media for updates!

Pace Women in Tech celebrates official club status in first meeting

The Pace Women in Tech club held its first meeting as an official Pace organization on Monday, February 6, 2017. Led by Seidenberg students Eiman Ahmed and Niamh Fitzsimon, the meeting was a brief introduction to the club and the plans for the upcoming semester.

Aimed to be a welcoming group where members can make new friends and build a peer network, Pace Women in Tech already has a lot planned for this year. Hackathons, internship workshops, and potential attendance to the 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration conference in Orlando, Florida, were just some of the things on the table.

The group aims to meet every two weeks and new members are welcome to join them for discussions, workshops and the chance to meet guest speakers from the tech industry – all over free pizza, of course.

“We want to spread awareness for the underrepresented group of women in technology,” said Ava Posner (BS in IT ’18). “My goal is to bring Seidenberg students – especially women – together so they have a network of individuals they can share experiences with, ask questions, and make new friends.”

Pace Women in Tech has an active Facebook group that is recommended for members not only so they can stay up to date with meetings and events here at Seidenberg but for local hackathons and other events taking place outside Pace.