My first hackathon experience was the first Marcato hackathon in 2014. At the time, I was seventeen years old, and the youngest person there. I went in not knowing what I was going to make or how I was going to do get it done within two days. At this point in my life, I was working on a 3D game built with Java, but most of my time went to balancing high school with recording my own music. The goal I had in the back of my mind for this hackathon was to make something simple and useful.
I really enjoyed being in an environment where I there were so many other coders like me in one space. But also, I have to admit I felt totally in over my head. I didn’t know anyone there! At the time, I was super quiet and even more introverted than I am today. It just felt like everyone had much more experience than me, and it was overwhelming. So I kept to myself and observed from a distance. Baby steps.
The guy who was sitting in the spot next to me probably noticed that I didn’t know anyone, and he chatted with me about programming languages and tools. At school, I didn’t know anyone else who was nearly as interested in programming as me. So it was a great experience having someone else with the same hobbies to talk to. This is why more kids need to get into programming at an early age!
days; // coming up with an idea.
I spent most of the first day playing around with Java and just trying to come up with something to build. I got started with the Twitter API because I was comfortable with it. Before the hackathon, I had used it to build a simple program that would help me find potential fans for my music, based on the followers of similar artists.
While I was trying to figure out what to build with the Twitter API, I decided to check out JavaFX and it seemed like a pretty cool way to build user interfaces. I noticed it had a chart/graphing library built in so I played around with that and got the idea to use it to display some sort of data that gets pulled from Twitter. Boom, Tweetographics was born.
Tweetographics was a simple program that lets you view the geographical demographics of a Twitter search. I started trying to pull the geolocational information from the Twitter user’s profiles but that provided to be too imprecise as users would enter inconsistent information (example: “My Room”, “Mordor”). I knew that Google Maps sanitizes all this information and corrects it when you type a location name into their site, so I checked out their API to see if it could handle this for me, which it could! I added it to the chain of APIs I was using my program was starting to look like something useful. Perfect!
days; // presenting it.
By the end of the first day I had a working demo. I spent most of the second day tidying it up and adding different chart types. I also chatted with the CTO of Marcato, Morgan, and I showed him my game I was working on. Showing what I was working on to something with experience gave me a boost of confidence because I really didn’t show too many people what I was working on at this point.
Then it came time to present. Oh man. I hadn’t ever presented my programming stuff to a room full of people before. I almost backed out, but finally worked through the anxiety, and got up and got it done. It went better than I expected. Once I got up in front of everyone, the anxiety just kind of disappeared. The hardest part was working up the courage to stand up in the first place.
days.slice(2); // every day after.
Those two days definitely marked a milestone where I started spending more and more time coding with a different outlook than I had before. I started taking it more seriously and changed from my idea of going into music production as a career, to computer programming.
Not long after that, I picked up PHP and started taking a closer look at web development because it’s the most streamlined way of getting software to another person’s computer letting them use it. I wanted to start building things that other people could use, rather than just building things for myself.