My First Hackathon

Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash

Every day last week, I came home from work and crammed online HTML/CSS and JavaScript tutorials late into the night. I took neat, color-coded notes in a spiral notebook. Hunched over my laptop tapping out simple lines of code, I imagined myself painting black streaks below my eyes, like an athlete in preparation for the Superbowl of intellect.

That’s right. My company hosted a 24-hour hackathon. I don’t have a computer science background, but I do have drive and a lust for victory. And all of these pretty colored pens.


8:56am– I arrive at work early to get my last assignments done. I’ve packed my glasses and sweatpants, anticipating a long night ahead. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about  Learning is intrinsically fun! and It’s just a game! But I’m no moony-eyed, let’s-just-all-be-friends hippie, either. I play to win.

10:00am– The hackathon committee explains the rules and prizes. We are competing for multiple categories.Cash prizes, office snack privileges, and other perks entice us, but honestly, the most alluring reward is glory. We disseminate into teams and get to work.

11:30am- By this point, the six of us have covered a large swath of whiteboard-friendly wall with our brainstorming, in bright pink Expo marker. One by one, ideas get crossed off. The team members who suggested them flinch but swallow their pain for the good of the group.

11:57am- “I don’t want to break for lunch until we come up with an idea,” I say to my team, insinuating that I’d rather we starve than lose.

12:16pm- Thankfully, we decide on an idea and break for lunch. We’ve decided to create a user-friendly, digital reorganization of an internal resources library. We now have the remaining 23 hours to design, mock-up, and code our project before presenting it in front of the company.

3:10pm- Help! During a coffee break, I discover the dangerous sweetness of grocery store Starbucks mocha frappuccinos, provided specifically for this event. An addiction is born.

7:00pm- Night falls. I chat with other teams at dinner and marvel at their ingenuity. I always knew that tech was a space for innovation, but the relationship between tech, creativity, and art never quite clicked until now.

7:40pm- Back to work. I watch the two user experience designers on my team. They sweep their hands over the keyboard and dream up sleek, graceful webpages like magic. I am somehow guzzling my third bottle of mocha frap.

11:45pm- I stagger home.


8:30am- To my delight, they’ve laid out all of my favorite kid cereals at the office! I go for Froot Loops. There are still mocha fraps in the fridge; the sight of them makes my stomach turn.

10:45am- Scramble! Everything needs to be perfect before our live demo in front of the company. We get our slides into the presentation just in time. 

12:30pm- Ours is the 11th of 21 presentations. We had agreed that I would give the presentation. For an introvert, I enjoy speaking in front of large crowds. I smile at the crowd, sprinkle in some buzzwords (creativity, synergy, interface), and hope I did the past 24 hours’ worth of work justice.

1:00pm– The judges deliberate. I’m too nervous to eat, but I nibble on my sandwich crust anyway.

1:06pm– “We’re probably going to win Most Multidisciplinary,” my team member assures me. I nod. Our project is a shoo-in. Plus, the prize for that category is the best one: snack box subscriptions.

1:09pm– The judges start announcing winners. My heart races.

1:12pm– They announce the “Most Multidisciplinary” award. It goes to… another team. I smile at my team member as if to say, Well, it was fun. Good-bye, novelty snacks.

1:14pm- The next award is “Best Concept.” A judge describes the winning project, and it sounds familiar. Wait. That’s because we built it! I tune out the rest of the speech. Pride, caffeine, and exhaustion-triggered adrenaline surge through my veins. Our team rises to accept the award. After a long 24 hours, we take a group photo holding our trophies looking like the happiest zombie soccer team.

2:34pm- After the festivities die down, it’s back to work. I reach up to rub my cheeks; they’re sore from smiling.

4:00pm- I’ve read the same sentence seven times. My mind is a fried egg. There’s day-old mocha frap swirling around in my bloodstream. But my heart is warm and soft like garlic spam rice. I’m full with accomplishment and belonging. Maybe I am cut out for this tech stuff.

5:20pm- I go home, plop on my bed, and sleep deeply.

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