A group photo at the all-female Youth Hack.

Our teen bloggers Beth and Jess participated in two youth hacks this year, here they reflect on their experiences and why you should definitely try a hackathon!

On the 23rd/24th October, we attended our first hackathon – Hack Manchester JR. Just a few months later, on the 27th/28th January, we attended another; HAC100’s first ever all-female youth hack. Here’s why you should definitely try a (youth) hack this year!

For a beginner coder, whether over or under 18 (as we are), a hackathon can be quite intimidating. The expectation to create something new in such a limited timeframe without much previous knowledge may be discouraging, but we managed it, so you definitely can.

You will learn new things

During our general research about similar events, every source seemed to say the same thing – it doesn’t matter how much previous coding experience you have, because you’ll learn things constantly during the time you’re there.

The staff pose for a photo (spot Jo!)

At first, we didn’t really believe that we could possibly learn so much, but it’s amazing how much you learn when you need to learn.

Within the first few hours of our first hackathon, we had already learnt a lot of new code in various new programming languages. But your role within a team doesn’t necessarily have to be coding; there are plenty of other useful things you can do. During the second day of our second hackathon, for example, we found ourselves working mainly on a mockup of our app in order to complement the work the rest of our team was doing, as they coded our main solution. So we learnt even more about how to use new software, on top of newly gained code-related knowledge and skills!

Whatever you attempt to create, there is a friendly team of mentors on hand to help you figure out why you can’t get your code working, and to give you advice on your project. You can also interact with the judges and find out more about what kind of thing they’re looking for, and of course, the biggest source of help and teaching is available to you throughout – the Internet.

You will meet new people

Both events we attended together, and then joined up with another pair to form the typical team size of 4. Meeting new people is one of the best parts of a hackathon; everyone has different strengths and can contribute a variety of ideas and skills to the team. It also helps you to make new friends with similar interests, and improve your teamwork skills. And if you connect particularly well with your new friends, you then have a full team ready for the next event!

Overall, we remain in contact with our team members from each event, and we are so happy to have made new, lasting friendships through our participation in hackathons. It may seem a little daunting to team up with new people, particularly if you are attending on your own, but it is definitely worth it. That’s not to say that solo teams aren’t perfectly capable at doing well (and winning!) but for us, being in a team was definitely a large part of what made the hackathons so enjoyable for us!

You will have lots of fun

Our (suspicious) wire-covered chair!

On the first day of the second hackathon we attended, we never really imagined that we’d progress to making a working prototype of a “modified chair” under 24 hours later… But one thing led to another, and the individual parts we had set up using a Raspberry Pi were duct-taped to a chair, with mentors lining up to try it out (after some persuasion, as all of the wires did look a bit intimidating). And to continue the theme of duct taping various electrical components to ordinary objects, during the first hackathon, a member of our team taped some sensors to his shoes, while one of us lay on the floor in order to film him walking for our presentation.

Presentations are another entertaining and interesting aspect of hackathons. It is really inspiring to hear all of the groups present and share the products they’ve been working so hard on over the weekend, and see how many different approaches to the same challenge people have come up with. It’s also a good opportunity to get even more creative to make your team stand out! You can watch our presentation at the all-female Youth Hack here.

You will achieve things you never thought you could!

We really can’t stress enough that hackathons are for everyone, no matter how confident you are in your skills! The point of these events isn’t to go and make something incredible based on things you already knew how to do, but to go along and learn something new.

Both times, we went in with the goal of trying new things, meeting new people and doing something awesome with code and technology. We never possibly imagined that we could win the challenges we attempted, especially not on our first time – but that is exactly what ended up happening (both times!) Win or lose, though, we found both hackathons to be an incredibly fulfilling and worthwhile experience, which we’d definitely recommend to anyone who is considering attending one.

And that was the story of how Team ‘ (Team Apostrophe) and Team ? (Team Question Mark) won our first hackathons!

Team ? pose for a photo after winning the Texecom challenge!

You can learn more about HAC100 and the events they hold here, and information about the challenges we chose can be found below:

Hack Manchester Jr: Texecom challenge

Youth Hack: Co-op challenge, Hive Manchester challenge and the Thales challenge (yes, we did all three!)

Written by Beth Heale