So I’m fairly new to the tech industry as I’m one of the increasingly popular ‘career changers’ group. I am also a graduate of a boot camp. That’s all you really need to know about me because I bet a good portion of you can already relate either from personal experience or because you’ve thought about making the change yourself.
This article goes out to all of you who have either thought about joining the tech industry or are fairly new members to it i.e; graduates or juniors. I’ll likely refer more to developers seeing as that’s my bag of tricks, but really this article is relevant to anyone involved in the industry.
Let’s start by talking about Hackathons. Specifically, let’s talk about how awesome Hackathons are for anyone at the early stages of their developer career. There are various types of Hackathons out there, but the basic premise is that of people within a given industry coming together over a short period of time (often a weekend) and working to create a prototype that satisfies certain criteria and/or theme for the event. There are judges and prizes are awarded. If it sounds a bit hectic, well that’s because it is BUT it’s also a whole lot of fun.
My first ever hackathon was held by Girls In Tech in Melbourne. I had heard about Hackathons and had a vague idea what they were about but was a bit nervous to attend. In this instance, I had a few fellow developer friends attending and the theme of the event really drew my eye. This was the Hack4Humanity. The difference here is that we would be helping out a variety of charities work through planning, researching and implementing an idea they really needed help on. Not only would these charities get some help to further their ideas but all of the prize money would go to them as well. So you can see why I didn’t hesitate and signed myself up right away.
I really didn’t know what to expect and if I’m completely honest I wasn’t 100% sure that I was up for the challenge. *Cue imposter syndrome, confidence-shaking and self-doubt*. I was so new to everything tech! What was I really going to be able to contribute to the team? To the charities? Nervously, I pushed on and showed up at the venue early that Saturday morning.
Right from the get-go, the vibe was amazing, people were so welcoming and inclusive. There was also a great range of skill sets and backgrounds. So I immediately felt comfortable. Once I found my friends, I made sure to introduce myself to others to try and meet as many people as I could. The day started with all of the charities pitching themselves and explaining what they were interested in creating. Then we were free to go mingle and join whichever charity most spoke to us. I ended up joining the Shifra team. A little plug:“Shifra helps non-English speakers find sexual and reproductive health information and services in Australia. We are committed to improving this access for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.” https://www.shifra.io/
We then spent the rest of the weekend putting together a plan, sharing ideas and eventually hacking away to create an MVP (minimum viable product). After several drafts, back and forths, changes, drinks, a food truck and lots of laughs we ended up with a product the charity was happy with. There was then an opportunity for each team to sell themselves and their creation to others through a sort of marketplace/demo. This gave the judges an opportunity to visit each stand, ask questions and see the product in action. Eventually, there was a winner (we came in 3rd place and also won People’s Choice! Hooray!).
And just like that, it was over. I realized there was no need to be anxious – which of course is the benefit of hindsight. I think this is a lesson for any grad/junior which extends beyond just attending an event like this and one that you repeatedly must tell yourself. A junior is a valuable member of a team. Your insights, experiences, and questions are all valid and helpful towards making and implementing decisions in the project. Don’t forget it!
Of course, there are other reasons to join a hackathon:
- Experience: As a junior, you will likely not have had a huge amount of experience building things and certainly not in teams. As a boot camp grad, I had worked on projects with other developers who intuitively knew my technical train of thought. However keep in mind, when you land your first gig, you will be working in a team of more than just developers. It’s important to get experience communicating about technical ideas with non-technical people. It also goes without saying that you get a much better product when all sides are considered (ie, product managers, UX, UI, analysts, front-end devs, back-end devs etc). Also not to be forgotten, the ability to work and collaborate within a team is the cornerstone of any great developer.
- Network: This is a great opportunity for you to network. The tech industry is all about networking. Many jobs don’t even get posted online and so it’s really important you get out there and meet your future colleagues. It’s also a really relaxed, a fun atmosphere so the opportunity to talk casually and exchange details are plentiful.
- Hone your skills: Hackathons are fast pace and they force you to think out of the box and iterate quickly. If you’re the kind of person who needs to take time planning and tinker until you get it right, this might be a great opportunity to challenge yourself. It’s also a good reminder that you don’t need to write perfect code all the time. That will come (well maybe not perfect) but sometimes there is merit in just writing code and then improving on it.
- Socialise: If you’re like me and don’t yet have many friends within the tech community, this is a wonderful opportunity to change that. I think you’ll find it to be very welcoming and supportive. The Girls in Tech events in particular always draws a fab group of people!
So there you go. What are you waiting for? Girls in Tech has their Hack4Humanity: Hack for Homecoming up in October. Sign yourself up and I’ll see you there!
Author: Jaime Gunther