First Hackathon: What Went Well and What Didn't

Billy Shih, a graduate of our Ruby on Rails program, shared a recap of one of his first hackathons and some advice for making the most of your hackathon experience.

Code for Seattle, a hackathon merging civic engagement and technology, was part of a larger event across the nation called Hack for Change, organized by Code for America. I had a great time, although I didn’t do any coding.

On reflection, I would do some things differently, so here’s a quick summary of my experience and what I learned.

The Good

  • Met other front-end and back-end developers and designers

  • Learned about non-business problems that technology can help solve

  • Contributed to helping to save cats!

  • Watched someone who really knows Ruby on Rails do some coding

  • Recognized that I have some practical problem-solving skills that others lack

  • Finally went to a hackathon :)

The Bad

  • Only talked to people within my group

  • Didn’t get to code because we had enough back and front-end developers and…

  • Our team got stuck with a technical issue that even the people who created the API we were using couldn’t help us with


  • Join a team that is lacking the skills you have

  • Take time to talk to others

  • Be more aggressive in seeking guidance from others around you

  • If someone has deep knowledge in something you want to know, ask to follow along but still try to be helpful

  • Spend time thinking hard about what you want to do and what you want to accomplish beforehand, even if you change your mind at the event

Overall, it was a fun event and I definitely will join another hackathon ASAP. I’m also planning to go to the Seattle on Rails Practice Meetup that one of my group members runs. More networking and hacking to go along with my regular learning is definitely a big goal of mine, especially after how this event went.

Lastly, giving back is really important to me and this is a unique way for me to give back to the community. I’ll definitely try to brainstorm more ways I can use the awesome data Seattle offers to help others out. I always think about how OneBusAway made busing a part of my routine and something much less scary when I first started—I want to have the same impact on others.

If you know of any events in Seattle, let me know (@tobillys) and I’ll try my best to go!

Check out the original post and more resources on Billy’s blog.

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