Hack UCI

By Tina Huynh

The term “hackathon” had come up when I transferred to California State University, Fullerton and I was looking for a stable computer science community to start networking in hopes to be able to participate in projects, events, and be more aware of other opportunities available. It wasn’t until I was looking at the links to hackathon applications sent by the CSUF ACM chapter that I learned what a hackathon truly entailed. I discovered that a hackathon is an event all levels of programmers attend to compete for all types of different prizes, meet sponsors, network with other like-minded folks; a hackathon is usually in-person and programmers typically given either 24 or 36 hours to develop their project; food and drinks are provided, and some sponsors tend to come bearing free items for attendees.

When I talked myself into applying for my first hackathon, after debating whether if I was ready for something so intense, I had applied to HackUCI because it was very close to home. When it was certain I was going, I began counting down the days weeks ahead of time. I was so excited to get there and meet everyone, learn by accomplishing, and experience everything there was at the event.

When it came to finding members for my team, I knew Swift was not going to be one of the popular languages people were familiar with in comparison to languages such as C++, Python, JavaScript, or HTML/CSS. But despite the struggle I faced to find teammates, I was determined to work on a project I knew was going to be beneficial for me as an iOS developer. In the end, I was able to find three wonderfully motivated teammates – Ben, Tiffany, and Valentin – and start planning ahead of time to be well-prepared for the allowed coding time.

I did not know my arrival time and the start of coding would be as far apart as it was though! Upon arrival at UCI Friday evening, I met up with two of my teammates to continue sketching blueprints for the mobile application at 5:00pm. I had checked in at the front tables at 6:00pm and had started going to greet the few sponsors already present with my new friends. Since there had only been 8 total sponsors present the first night, waiting until 10:00pm to start coding was a very, very long wait for four anxious students at their first hackathon.

When coding started, the team quickly split the work between the three computers that could run the developing software and then between frontend and backend developers. And as we started working, I quickly faced with the thought that there wouldn’t be a lot of time for talking or networking even within the team I was working with. Suddenly, my determination to learn about iOS development translated to creating more time within our workflow in order to have conversations, have breaks, and make connections. The personalities of my teammates made this a fairly easy task because of how well as all meshed together.

During the first hours working, we sat like statues, barely speaking to each other. But as time passed by, we slowly came together as a united team: eating, scowling at our screens over bugs, or laughing at how many free items we were getting from sponsors we were getting. And through the intense pressure I felt by having to finish a project in not only a short amount of time but also with so many eyes on you, having these incredible teammates truly went a long way.

By the time Sunday rolled around and we were all waiting to present to the sponsors, I couldn’t help but look back on the past three days. I remembered all the times I had wished I was home comfortably at my own desk or in my bed. I remembered all the times I had wanted to type random strings of words to see if anything worked. I remembered all the times I had looked across the table and had given my teammate a weary nod as if to confirm I was tired too. Then, standing beside my teammates in front of our finished project, I finally realized that I had made it; we made it out of our very first hackathon with a finished project using a brand new coding language. And despite being exhausted, each and every single one of us had to admit we were extremely proud.

Before I had dealt with it firsthand, I would never believe someone when they told me they would go to a hackathon and put themselves through an extremely intense 24 or 36 hours programming just for the experience of it. But, now, I would too. Not only have I learned I have the capability to face a lot of more tense situations than I first perceived, but I have also made some wonderful friends as well.

My HackUCI Project: https://devpost.com/software/look-then-cook