Hackathons:  A fun and challenging learning experience

My name is Michael DiCicco. I’m a junior here at UA Little Rock majoring in Information Science, a Technical Assistant at the UA Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, and a Research Assistant at COSMOS.  What little spare time I have is spent traveling around the country participating in 24-hour long competitions called “hackathons”. Not that kind of hack, think lifehack + marathon.

Karen and Michael hard at work at CrimsonHacks 2018.

The hackathons I participate in are generally sponsored by the company Major League Hacking, and their current schedules are posted on their website https://mlh.io.  MLH hackathons are really great because they accommodate participants of all skill levels. They are catered offering delicious food and caffeine, some offer travel reimbursement, and best of all there are no entry fees.  MLH hackathons use a service called Devpost to submit projects to judgment categories, and to track teams.

These hackathons are simultaneously the most fun and most stressful events I’ve ever participated in.  The main idea of a hackathon is that you come with an idea for an application and then you have 24 hours to build and demonstrate a prototype.  The first hackathon I participated in was Crimson Hacks 2017 at the University of Alabama. Fellow Cosmographer Karen Watts and I drove the seven hours to Tuscaloosa with no ideas for what to build and no real idea how to even build an application.  Once we got there we decided that we would just take advantage of the classes they were offering to newbies and be satisfied with that; however, what ended up happening was that we met two students named Mcclain and Andrew who had an idea for an application.  The four of us learned so much in that span of 24 hours it was unreal. By the time the dust settled, our application “Atrocious Apartments” had won best use of Amazon Web Services.

Winner, winner, no chicken dinner – a mini 3D printer instead for Michael and Karen.

Whenever I tell someone about going to a hackathon their response is invariably “I don’t know how to build an application”, well neither did we.  Karen and I had some basic programming, basic web design, and in my case intermediate Linux skill. With that we were able to take crime data and apartment listings from a public repository and feed it into a website that displayed the information on a map for students looking for safe housing.  One of the lessons we learned is not to get bogged down in the details at the start, just break everything down into bite-sized chunks and it will fall into place.

If you are thinking of participating in a hackathon, you really should.  They have classes to build skills, they submit your resume to their sponsors, the judges are often headhunting talent for their companies, and they have various prize categories ranging from best domain name to best application for social good.  The best part is that you learn so much more during those 24 hours because of the competitive aspect than you would any other way and that new knowledge, experience, and confidence is absolutely priceless.

 

Michael DiCicco
About our COSMOS student blogger:

Michael represented UA Little Rock at CrimsonHacks 2017 and 2018 at the University of Alabama and won for best use of AWS. His team has represented the UA Little Rock Information Science department at the JOLT! Hackathon, Shell on the Border 2018 and HackHLTH in Las Vegas in May 2018.

profile >> Michael DiCicco

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various student authors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies or official policies of UA Little Rock.



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