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Thoughts on (reluctantly) participating in (and winning) my first hackathon.

Let's be honest, I've only seen depictions of hackathons in pop culture shows and movies like "The Social Network", where hundreds of privileged 'prepsters' geeked up on Redbull and Adderall are confined in a lowly lit hall, furiously developing and programming for seemingly endless days, as they are cheered on by their peers as they pitch their groundbreaking ideas.

From an event management perspective (my previous career), it certainly appeals to me, however I can't say that I honestly envisioned MYSELF participating in one of those kinds of competitive events, let alone attaining the technical skills and knowledge required to even 'make the cut' for a team worthy of placing in the top percentile of competing teams.

Just a week earlier, I witnessed (for the first time) several of my brilliant classmates compete and place second in the Valtech Social Impact Hackathon and something deep inside of me came to a new realization that this seemingly unreachable achievement, is now a possibility.

I did some deductive reasoning. So if of the studies that confirm that we are the average of the 5 people that we spend the most time around, then if the past 18 weeks I've been investing my nights, (late nights and early mornings) and weekends with these hungry, scrappy, gritty and brilliantly minded Black x Brown data scientists, engineers, career pivoters and immigrant dreamers who are putting in the hard work -- that I am very likely to succeed if I do not give up.

πŸ’Ž:"The people we surround ourselves with are the biggest influence on our behavior, attitudes and results. Who you are around β€” what they’ve got you thinking, saying, doing and becoming β€” sets the course of your life."

So when we were strongly encouraged (...actually, we were volun-told) by one of the staffers at The Knowledge House to enter and compete in the Citi Technology x Virtual Hackathon, I decided in that moment that I would register for this hackathon, even though I had no clue what the outcome would be.

Days leading up to the hackathon, I reluctantly reached out to one (of the many) admirable fellows in the program, "Hax", and basically poured my heart out, being upfront with him that my technical programming skills are sketchy at best (lolπŸ€·πŸΎβ€β™‚οΈ), but there are a myriad of other technical design and project management skills that I could contribute to the project. And to my relief, he replies "Sure, let's do it!"

Well that was easy... a little too easy, and so the bouts of "stinking-thinking" starts percolating in my mind. All of these doubts, these (irrational) fears that "I'll be discovered as a fraud" or that my (small pseudo-technical) contributions viewed as not up to par started to flood my mind, and the pressure of being on a team with such technically skilled engineers started to "make me feel some type-a-way". I tried to backout.

πŸ’Ž: "Nothing great is ever accomplished in your comfort zone."

All of the excuses that I had tried to use to convince myself that I "didn't have the time" or that I "was not worthy" of being on this hackathon team, or that "I was not qualified" or that my programming skills are not "good enough" were not adding up -- and my teammates were NOT trying to hear ANY of that.

It's the day of the hackathon, the Slack message attempting to backout was already sent, yet I still passively logged in the opening statements from the Citibank Team and I felt this self-imposed rejection like I was back in grade school again... standing on the sidelines spectating because I wasn't "good enough" to play Basketball like the other more athletic boys.

I had well wishes for the team, and tried to go about my day finishing homework assignments and trying to avoid dealing with my quitting, when I get this message from Ayman, one of the most persistent problem solvers I know.

πŸ’Ž: "Those 5 simple words changed my whole day, my whole weekend, and my whole outlook on what I believe about myself."

That night, the majority of the frontend and backend had already been built, the team possibly had already invested 8 or so hours in meticulously building, tinkering, debugging, pushing, problem solving... and I was seamlessly ushered into all of it with excitement and warmth (and a little jest from the guys).

Shafee, whose work and humble can-do spirit I admire, got me up to speed on all of the UI-UX, and immediately gave me creative reign to update the Figma wireframes to match his CSS updates to the site.

It was such a delight to work under the leadership of Leesel, whose very calm, listening and soothing voice created a safe-inclusive virtual space for all of us to do our absolute best work in.

And just like that, I was back on the team, back in the fold, as if that Slack message was deleted, as if those fears in my mind didn't exist-- this was the first time I felt like I belonged on a technical team -- like I was a part of something BIGGER than myself, and that even though I was contributing mainly documentation, wireframes and all of the visual assets and communication, (and of course some awesome lo-fi playlists and the occasional positive affirmation) that I was still an integral and vital part of the team, and that my contributions mattered.

Winning a pair of earbuds, a digital certificate and a little recognition to add to my resume was not my "why" or the prize or even a "win" for me.

What I synthesized from this experience was on a much deeper level.

πŸ’Ž: It's the "overcoming my internalized self-doubt" for me.
πŸ’Ž: It's the "getting out of my head" for me.
πŸ’Ž: It's the "crushing imposter syndrome to the ground" for me.
πŸ’Ž: It's the "realization that I'm surrounded by winners" for me.
πŸ’Ž: It's the "I can be my authentic-self in tech" for me.
πŸ’Ž: It's the "accountability from my peers to be the best version of myself" for me.
πŸ’Ž: It's the "I'm a UX Engineer because my skills say so" for me.

Top comments (3)

haxagonusd profile image
Julian Q

I'm glad you've shared your experience! It's awesome to see.

blaquebeardcoder profile image

Thanks Julian-- you definitely are a standup engineer to work with and learn from!