Making the Most of Your First Hackathon

AthenaHacks
4 min readFeb 22, 2023
AthenaHacks 2022 team

With AthenaHacks 2023 coming up this weekend, our Logistics Lead, Lavanya Sharma, shares her tips on getting the most out of AthenaHacks and preparing for a hackathon.

Lavanya also works as Coach at Major League Hacking (MLH), a hackathon-focused organization that partners with us annually, so she has attended her fair share of hackathons and has plenty of advice to share.

What are a few things that first-time hackers should bring?

  1. Curiosity and an open mind!
  2. From personal experience, it is a lot less daunting if you come with a couple of friends you can potentially team up with.

For your first hackathon, you don’t quite know what to expect — if you have a friend, the new experience is something you can go through together as an exciting challenge. This is more enjoyable than going in blind and being intimidated due to the large number of experienced people at the event: It’s kind of like a strength in numbers. Plus, if you meet other beginners, invite them to your team!

3. Chargers!

This one is pretty obvious, but you don’t want to be someone who doesn’t have their charger or wastes precious time looking for their cable when they could be working on the project instead. Portable chargers are also a good option, especially when outlets might be limited.

What kind of goals should people set?

For first-time hackers, you should try as many things as possible! Go to all the workshops, and talk to all the fantastic company representatives. As a hacker, you have nothing to lose, so take the chance to be as creative as possible!

Center your experience not on competing but on learning, growing, and networking. Don’t feel intimidated by more experienced hackers — everyone has to start from somewhere, and today is where you’re starting your hackathon journey!

General advice for any returning hacker is to encourage more first-time hackers. It’s pretty easy to identify them since they end up looking kind of lost or shy and are often afraid to ask questions. Try to be there as a friendly face or a role model, and encourage people to ask for help or even make mistakes. It’s really easy to get caught up in the competitive aspect of the hackathon, but it’s a safe environment for learning, especially at AthenaHacks.

Organizers Lavanya Sharma (left) and Ipek Goktan (right) working hard at AthenaHacks 2022

What kind of projects should people work on?

Try out something new or something you’ve been excited about recently. There’s nothing to lose at a hackathon! You can use a tech stack you already enjoy working with and want to gain more experience in, or use an entirely new tech stack you’ve never heard of before and learn how it works! Both are equally great as long as you’re passionate about the project you’re building.

How do I form teams? Do I try to work with people who are more experienced? What if I come alone but want to work with a team?

Regardless of skill level or technical experience, don’t be afraid to explore the unknown. It can be super fun when none of your team members know what they’re doing and spitball random project ideas together. It’s alright to trial-and-error your way through your first hackathon project. Some of our past hackers made projects with languages they learned during the hackathon and won prizes!

Also, if you come alone and don’t have a team, that’s completely okay! Fellow hackers are also there to learn new things and meet new people, so don’t be afraid to go up to people and say, “Hey, I loved speaking with you at the Web Development workshop. I’d love to work together!” Most people will be supportive and point you in the right direction!

AthenaHacks also provides a dedicated time for team formation the night before over Zoom and before the opening ceremony on Saturday! There will be plenty of opportunities to find your teammates before hacking starts.

AthenaHacks 2023 Logistics co-leads Lavanya Sharma (left) and Khushi Choudhary (right)

How does AthenaHacks differ from other hackathons?

AthenaHacks is Southern California’s first women-centric hackathon (trans and non-binary inclusive), and we welcome all students with marginalized gender identities. As a result, we are wholly focused on creating an inclusive environment rather than a competitive one.

Ask questions, make mistakes, and don’t feel embarrassed if you don’t know something. We genuinely believe that there’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Any tips on pitching our project during judging?

During the project pitch, focus equally on the project’s impact, as well as the nitty-gritty technical details. Both are extremely important, and the why and the how must go hand-in-hand.

Hopefully, this was a helpful guide for anyone attending AthenaHacks 2023! The team and our sponsors are offering workshops throughout the hackathon. If you don’t have any technical experience, these workshops will be super valuable resources to make you feel more prepared whilst building your project.

Follow us on Instagram @athena_hacks to get the most up-to-date info on all things AthenaHacks. We will be announcing our workshops, meal plans, etc. on there so keep an eye out!

Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at athena_hacks@gmail.com or visit our website athenahacks.com to read our FAQ and reference our hackathon schedule.

The AthenaHacks team is looking forward to seeing you all soon, happy hacking!

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AthenaHacks

Southern California's premiere hackathon for marginalized gender identities