Hackathons

This was ported from my old blog. It’s probably a mess

I don’t hackathon that much. But when I do hackathon, I always go to MHacks.

We’re about 20 hours in so far. Or rather we’ve got 11:16 left according to MHacks app. Math isn’t exactly my friend at this point of the night. I’m not exactly sure what a number is anymore (but I definitely know what an int or float is.) It’s always a wonder why people choose to abuse themselves through hackathons. If you code in class, why would you possibly spend all weekend doing it with no sleep and nothing but catered food and cookies? It’s something I’m pretty curious about right now, as I’m mentally exhausted, physically drained, and starring at my Facebook feed full of partying friends.

There’s a huge frenzy around hackathons right now. I just counted a bazillion (10) Facebook groups without trying. There’s a major league in the vein of the MLB or the football people. People are running around in their pajamas with an IV of Red Bull, 3 different VR devices, and a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration. Some poor overworked recruiters are staying up all night to impress college students. It’s incredible.

I’m a bit of an outsider on the topic. I only go to my local hackathon, I never win and I usually bail out early. I’ve never gotten a job offer from one and my laptop doesn’t have four layers of startup stickers. Here are my thoughts - the thoughts from someone who isn’t convinced that hackathons are going to replace the world and everything in it.

The Good

Companies

Life isn’t all about the money and the jobs and the perks. Unless you ask Business Insider then (note to self: rant about bad journalism). But, it’s cool having all of these people try to woo you. It’s the closest to rock-star status I’ll ever have. Tons of free stuff. Hoodie pillows are apparently a thing. MHacks has a better “career fair” than the actual career fair. Even if you’re not looking, it’s still pretty fun.

Community

I’m pretty bad about taking advantage of this. We have an office in the middle of the hackathon space. With a couch. Naturally, our team doesn’t ever leave that room. Our square-foot-per-person count is probably double digit. Insanity. But, it’s great to have so many people around. I’ve gotten into conversations about my Palantir jacket. There are students from all over the place. If I want help or just a conversation, I can go pretty much anywhere. It is really cool how many like-minded people are put together and the power it brings.

Motivation

I feel like there’s a very profound quote about mindsets, but it’s escaping me. It’s hard not to have a working mindset in the middle of a hackathon. If you didn’t try to work at all, you’d actually be pretty bored. Being trapped in a room full of programmers is a great way to learn to program. I’ve learned everything I know about mobile apps because of the fall MHacks. It was because I had the motiviation to sit down and figure it out.

The Reservations

Food

Today, I’ve had some chicken, potatoes, veggies, pizza, and cookies. That’s the menu. Tomorrow will be Panera and bagels. It’s decent. But, it’s also incredibly unhealthy. I’m not the best eater on a good day, but even I think that this is a little much. I haven’t seen a piece of fruit all weekend. I’m dreaming (hallucinating) about Apples that don’t have batteries. Unhealthy food makes it a lot harder to stay alert over the weekend and it compounds the sleep deprivation pain.

Code

Hackathons encourage bad code. Move fast and break things, right? I’ve written terrible code this weekend. It’s riddled with errors. There’s misspellings. I’m not even sure if everything works. But, if I hit certain buttons in a certain order and pray really hard, things generally work. That’s a pretty bad practice. But, that’s what’s encouraged when I need a final “polished” product in 3 days. I’m painting a cardboard box to look like a car. Hope nobody tries to drive it.

On a quick note, I’d love to see prizes for the best pull request. Encourage people to write code that other people are going to use.

Sleep

There’s a perception in America that hard work can solve anything. The gold diggers back in the turn of the century thought so - just dig more and you’ll find gold! But, it’s a flawed philosophy. There’s only so much a person can work. And it’s hardly healthy. I feel like hackathons perpetrate the overworking. Nobody here has gotten more than 5 hours of sleep this weekend. If I get 5 hours in one night, that was a bad night. And this is over a weekend - 3 days. Are we really expecting this from people in the real world?

I’m Gonna be Prom King Anymore

There’s a lot of people who love hackathons. They have their “Hell yeahs!” and their laptop stickers and their war stories. I would never, and won’t take that away from them. Hackathon organizers do a great job and should be rewarded for the blood and tears that are visible in these events (metaphorically. Haven’t seen any blood so far).

But, I don’t think hackathons are for everybody. They aren’t for me. When I look back at everything I’ll miss from college, I don’t think that hackathons will be something that I’ll reminisce about. I feel like hackathons are perpetrating a hacker culture that I don’t want to be a part of. I have no intentions of dropping out to dedicate my life to a startup. I don’t want to build a hack that uses Node and Angular and Oculus and Glass and Pebble and 3D printers attached to robot drones in space.

But, more importantly, I don’t want coding to consume my life. Coding culture doesn’t seem great for balance. I’m expected to be working long weeks and then go off and hack with no rest on the side. That’s the hacker culture to me - never stop coding ever. For some people, it works great. But, I think that balance is going to become key as programming becomes more finely ingrained into our lives.

I feel like everyone is screaming about “disruption” and “innovation” and the newest trends. And the more screaming there is, the harder it is to be heard if you’re not agreeing with the crowd. That’s the conversation about hackathons and hacking in general. I think there’s more to community though. I think there’s people out there who see programming as a career or a hobby - not as their livelihood. They want to learn and grow as programmers, but they only want to go so far. They aren’t intimidated by the learning curve, but they don’t see a purpose in following it all the way. I hope those people, myself included, can speak up more. Programming shouldn’t your life. And I feel like hackathons are one of the many forces that encourage differently.