Last year I went to my first ever hackathon, Hack24.

Now let’s be honest here. I’m not a coder by any stretch of the imagination.

(Side note: If you’re interested in finding out more about Hack24 itself, take a look at the blog post I wrote for Cronofy, or check out the Hack24 website).

HTML and basic CSS is about my limit, and editing breaking a few basic things in PHP now and again. (I’m even lazier now that I have Joe to code stuff up for me when I need it).

So why go to a 24 hour coding event?

Attending a hackathon as a non-coder

01. You’re an automatic unicorn

Hackers don’t just want other hackers in their team; they want people who can do other things too. Project management, copywriting, video creation, ideas, and a different perspective are all valuable skills. The programmers in your team may have any and all of these skills, but they probably won’t have much time to execute them. Even organising tasks, testing, googling, and tea making beer collecting come in handy if you’re not confident in anything else.

Having a different skillset can give your team the edge, because non-coders are far rarer. It also means you have a person in your team to do the non-programming things, because the act of explaining and demonstrating your hack effectively is just as important as the hack itself.

If you don’t fancy working within a team, there are plenty of different roles to get involved in: photography, social media, general volunteering, set up, videography, blogging, interviewing, and endless other ways you can help out.

02. You meet amazing people

For me, this was the most rewarding part about Hack24. Some people I’d spoken to online, some people I’d never communicated with before, some people I knew really well from work or already being friends or other events. But honestly, I was surprised at the variety of people there. Everyone from students to enthusiasts to seasoned professionals made an appearance, and it was great for meeting new people in the industry. It’s a good chance to network. People are really friendly and genuinely interested in who you are. If you’re an introvert, people get that. Being yourself is strongly encouraged.

03. You get a lot of fresh job satisfaction

Sometimes it’s nice to get away from the standard day-to-day tasks and do something that’s very different but still productive. Being part of a team completing a whole project from start to finish in 24 hours or so is incredibly rewarding. You’re using whatever skills you have in new ways in a brilliant setting, which always has that feel-good factor.

04. It’s not all work

While Hack24 is a 24 hour competition, there’s plenty of fun and games…it’s not 24 hours of work! Board games, a pinata, and gameshow style games were all available….oh, and lots of amazing food. Downtime is just as valued, and organised so that it doesn’t interrupt the hacks but ensures people get much-needed breaks. Generally, I found the vibe was pretty relaxed until the crucial last minutes.

And there’s a ton of great swag.

You know you're a geek when… #hack24 #ubuntu #opensource #cola #linux

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05. There are lots of opportunities to learn something new

I’m a firm believer that you can learn something new from every new person you meet, and as hackathons like Hack24 are a huge melting pot of ideas, innovation, and passion, it’s the perfect environment to learn. I’m not saying, ‘Hey, go to a hackathon and ask some people to teach you how to code,’ because no one wants to be that person. But you can learn a lot about logic, critical thinking, business, problem-solving, and lots of other things. Always be learning. It’s one of my mottoes.1

06. You can choose your own value

I got a lot of value out of Hack24 both personally and professionally. As I was there to cover the event for Cronofy in addition to volunteering, I was interested in seeing how people were using ‘stuff’ (resources, technology, ideas, existing concepts) and the problems/challenges they encountered while doing so. I took plenty of photos and made notes for the upcoming Cronofy blog posts. I welcomed people to the event and told them all the important stuff (like the wi-fi details and where the food was). On top of that, I got to support the web industry that I love and the local tech community that has looked after me so well.

Ultimately, a hackathon really is what you make it, and it’s flexible enough to find your own balance between work and fun. If you want to get things done, it offers a great environment for that. If you want to spend more time soaking up the beer atmosphere, you can do that too.

Some final tips if you’re attending a hackathon as a non-coder:

  • Know what you want to get out of it before you go. Why are you going? What do you want to achieve?
  • Work with the people organising the hack to develop a specific role for yourself (e.g. volunteer/runner, social media cover, photographer).
  • If you’re taking photos, have a quick list of shots prepped in advance, e.g. intro speech, prize giving, banners, screens, teams etc.
  • Be conscious of what you’re doing. Don’t be that annoying person who stops hackers constantly to ask them what they’re doing and what they’re working on. Wait for a good time.
  • Bring all your electronics & chargers. You can never have enough devices for testing or portable chargers or USB cables.
  • Most importantly, have fun!

To round off a great weekend, our team finished in a very respectable second place for our challenge. Go Team Watermelon!

Have you ever been to a hackathon? If so, how did you get on? If not, would you consider going?

Attending a hackathon as a non-coder

  1. Along with, ‘It’s okay to sneeze on people as long as they don’t wake up.’