First Hackathon Experience

25 Dec 2017

This is the first article for the website

This will be the first article since the inception of this blog. In this article, I will be sharing my experience of attending a Hackathon for the first time.

Hackathon is a portmanteau of hacking and marathon.Contrary to the poular assumptions, a Hackathon is not equivalent to a computer Hacking competition. .It is a limited time design competition for computer programming and software development. While a hackathon can involve hacking computers ( not in the negative pejorative), it is not the only thing it can focus on. They can be based on IOT, Hardware, web design, web development, social topics and so on. They are not resticted to only Computer Science students or professionals. Anyone with the drive and interest can participate in Hackathons. Professionals and students from all backgrounds participate in these events. These events can be regional, national and even international. A hackathon will taking place every 1-2 weeks. It is an exhilarating learning experience. The best part is that most of the Hackathons are completely free. Even prominent national and international events are completely sponsored. I urge everyone to participate in a Hackathon atleast once during their college or school time.

I don’t remember the date clearly. It was sometime halfway through the summer break(May-July). I was half-sleepily browsing the Internet to kill my time. I came across the popular competitive programming website, Hackerearth. There were a couple of live Hackathons and completed Hackathons listed on the page. One of them caught my eye-“IndiaHacks”. It was an IOT based competition. IOT is a connection of devices consisting of physical devices like electronic appliances, vehicles, etc. We use specific softwares,sensors which help in the exchange of data between them.I recollected my friend mentioning about IOT once. After googling a bit about the competition, I decided to ask my friend about it. He was elated and we both decided to register for the event.

There were four categories for the topic.Smart Driving Experience, Smart Homes,Smart Medical Devices, Smart Wearables. For example, a smart driving experience might involve using IOT to improve safety, automated repair notification, etc. After bandying for ideas, we settled on creating a smarter car headlight. It would automatically detect the light in its surroundings and regulate the light coming from it. This would prevent accidents due to high light beams. We filled the idea and registered for the event without any expectations.

It was August 7. I recieve a mail from IndiaHacks saying” You have been selected for Round 2 of the hackathon….”. I was overjoyed. I didn’t consider going through the rest of the mail and called my friend. We both were ecstatic and I informed everyone on my hostel floor. We decided to start working on our idea as soon as possible.

The competition was supposed to be held on 26th August. It was a very short period of time for us to clearly refine our ideas and create a viable product. We started talking to our professors and friends. We planned to buy all the hardware products for the competition. We hit our 1st roadblock. None of the shops nearby were open that day and none had all the required devices we would be requiring for the product. After calling over 10 shops, we decided to order it from online.

According to our plan, I had to develop a Bluetooth application which emits light and returns the intensity for the same in LUX. My partner was going to work on the hardware part. He had to use LED sensor and arduino board to emulate an actual car. My work was to be done on android. As I wasn’t proficient in Android, I had to start learning from scratch.

This was our second roadblock.(Well, actually, mine .) Encumbered with course work, project work, etc, I failed to make any time for learning android. I procrastinated till the competition day.

The fated day had arrived.(Actually the night before it) Both of us were anxious and excited. We were going through ambivalent feelings of excitement and fear. I was unable to sleep at night.(Which proved to be costly in the coming time, very costly.). In this flury of emotions, I also felt the infamous Inferiority Complex. I thought “ Who were we? Who was I? Why am I going to this competition where I will be the dumbest person in the room? These thoughts prevented me from having a good sleep that night.

Thankfully,we had a very different experience. The competition was held in Nasscom,Noida. It was a wonderfully built office. We met people of all ages and from all walks of life. We were able to meet executives working in influential companies like IBM, Royal Bank of Scotland, Honeywell and many more. Along with meeting some excellent people, we met people who were far-exceeding in our expectations. I met Mtech graduates who knew the knick and knack of every emerging software in the industry. We met people of our age who were well-versed with every software programming language. They were extremely humble and offered their help to the competitors. The food was delectable and the amenities were well-provided. We were going to have a continuous supply of Red Bulls, coffee, tea,snacks,etc.

It was supposed to be a 1-day hackathon. Within 1 day, we had to create a MVP(Minimum Viable Product). The product may not include all the features that we had promised but it should be working fine. Also, since a huge amount of investments had to be put in our products, we would have to find ways to make it scalable and profitable.

We were all set to begin with a bang. But, this was when we hit our 3rd roadblock. My laptop charger wasn’t working for sometime now and I was just using it through Jugaad It suddenly stopped charging. My laptop had already completed its lifecycle and it couldn’t stay on for long without charging. This messed up the plan as we didn’t have any computer to write our code. Thankfully, I was able to borrow a charger from a good competitor.

While I had found a charger, my friend started working on the circuit. He had gone only a little far, that we had hit our fourth roadblock. The source stopped working. Suspecting that a wire might have gone loose, we tightened the wires and checked if the power source was working. After wasting 15 minutes, we finally asked our neighbours for an extra source, which they obliged.

The work was going well for another hour or two that we had hit our fifth roadblock. My partner realised that a lot of his wires and the equipment he had brought weren’t working. We won’t be able to move further without solving this situation. We had almost given up. In an epiphany, my partner remembered about a hardware shop nearby. I decided to bring the required equipment.

Reaching the shop turned out to be a big headache. I wasn’t prepared for what was happening next. On reaching the shop, I came to know that the address had changed few days ago. This was the sixth roadblock. In another hour or so, and after changing the mode of transport twice, we reached the shop.

After bringing all the stuff back, we started working on our project quickly. It was already very late. Both of us woke up all night to complete the project. Reminiscing about it, I remembered the exertion, the uncomfortable sleep on beanbags and the constant barrage of problems hindering our progress.

Throughout this event, few people helped us wholeheartedly without which we could have given up easily. Our neighbours helped us in improving our plan, gave us feedback, shared their equipments when our equipment had stopped working suddenly. Our judges were kind enough to suggest ideas to make our project more scalable and profitable. Inspite of not winning the Hackathon, both of us were able to learn a lot of things and enjoy ourselves. We met amazing competitors, extremely smart judges, entrepreneurs, and many more people. We understood the real lessons of leadership, keeping calm under enormous levels of stress, persistence, pragmatism, proper planning, etc. An important lesson that I learnt was similar to the one echoed by Dr Randy Pausch in his famous speech, The Last Lecture It is a must watch Always plan as if things are going to fail.

Thanks for reading this lengthy write-up. I may have made a lot of mistakes and I will be extremely thankful if you can point them out.


  1. Guide to Hackathon

  2. What is Hackathon?

  3. IOT Contest

  4. Internet of things

Also, thanks to my friends for their suggestions to improve my blogpost