UNIHACK – A hackathon that actually involved coding

UNIHACK 2019 hackathon

Over the weekend, I went to my first real hackathon. I say that because people actually code AND they actually stay up all night coding. 😱 They’re allowed to (and even encouraged to) sleep over at the venue and showers are provided.

Man, seeing people making some awesome things from huge chunks of text that looks like gibberish to me is way more exciting than the dodgy wireframes and powerpoint slides we business-focused types tend to come up with at our so-called hackathons (they should just be called ‘ideathons’ 🙄).

Our first idea

I came into UNIHACK without a team, so I’m grateful that two super-cool dudes Andrew and David were happy for me to join them. They wanted to make an app that would remind you to turn your phone back off silent mode so that you could hear it ringing.

Ah, such a common problem – my mom gets so much shit from my dad because of this. Andrew’s dad had been complaining about it for years. But after some digging online, we realised that what we had wanted to achieve would soon be available in Apple’s iOS 12 update with its improved do not disturb function. So that was that.

Back to the drawing board…

We went through a few ideas before finally settling on another problem that was close to home. David was an artist, so he had a lot of frustration with the manual process involved in uploading his work to multiple websites.

He’d have to log in to each of them and wait for his images to load separately for each one. So sometimes he just couldn’t be bothered and ended up posting to just one website. The solution was simple: a webapp where you could upload an image once and share it to all the different websites from one place.

Since this involved a crap ton of coding, I felt way out of my depth. I tried to make myself useful by doing research on existing solutions and designing the user interface.

I managed to make a mockup design, but man, actually coding it up in HTML/CSS was a huge feat for me. Since I had nothing else better to do with my time, the boys were happy to let me experiment, even though they could both probably do HTML/CSS in their sleep.

It was a slooooow process, but at least I managed to make something decent with my helpful friend Google. But y’know what? That’s what we all did.

Don’t know how to do something? JUST GOOGLE IT! 🤪 (David: “That’s essentially what programming is all about.”)

Andrew managed to use the internet to learn how to use a new programming language (Node.js) to make the webapp too. I love that we all learned something new out of the experience. 😊

I’m so grateful for Andrew because he was always so willing to teach me stuff – it was literally a foreign world for me. What are APIs? What is GitHub? What the hell is pushing and pulling? WHAT IS 3-LEGGED OAUTH???? Why are cookies called cookies? (Think Hansel and Gretel.)

Yeah, it was a really foreign language to me but damn, it was so exciting learning all about it. It was as though I had travelled into a different universe. 🤩

And there was so much talent in the room!!! Ideas ranged from augmented reality for learning to an app to help you get more sleep to a cat roulette to help you decide where to eat. And my fave because of its potential social impact: affordable smart surgical lighting for health services that lack resources. 🌟

I’m so glad that I got exposed to this wonderful, magical world. Just knowing what is possible really expands your horizons.

Now I really wanna learn the basics of coding in various languages so that I at least know what’s going on and the kinds of crazy stuff we can build even if I’m not the one doing it.

A big thank you to Andrew and David for letting me join them on a wild ride this weekend. I had so much fun! Even though our app looks simple in its functionality, I now truly appreciate all the effort it takes to get something to actually work. Both of them got 3 and 5 hours of sleep respectively and somehow still managed to stay alive. 😂

If you ever get a chance to participate in a hackathon, whatever it is, do it! You’ll learn so much and meet so many amazing people. ✌️

Check out my other hackathon experiences here.

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