May 13, 2019

What I’ve learned from joining a hackathon with only 1.5 months of coding experience

What I’ve learned from joining a hackathon with only 1.5 months of coding experience
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I'm a freelance UI/UX designer with basic knowledge of HTML/CSS (just starting out) from Malaysia. It all begun with freeCodeCamp. They have one of the best (free!) resources. Without FreeCodeCamp, I'd give up on coding already! I've also subscribed to Mosh Hamedani's online courses as his way of teaching is concise and easy for beginners to understand.

2019 is the year of putting myself out there and overcoming my fears! One of my dreams is to join a hackathon, so I did it with only 1.5 months of coding experience (Javascript, React).

For those who're unsure about joining a hackathon, I'd like to share my experience with you. So, here's what I've learned.

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Spot our team --- table on the right! | Credits: JomHack

Don't be afraid. You're not alone.

After the organizer put us in a group chat of individuals who're also looking for teammates, I finally found my teammates (1 coder, 1 data science student). It is mandatory to have 1 coder on the team. Initially, I was so afraid that nobody wants to team up with me because I'm not a coder. I thought my skill set wouldn't help much. I was wrong. Every single one of us, no matter the experience, we made a difference!


  • List down your skills that could help the team. Even if you think they're not good enough, your teammates might need them. Just put it out there.
  • Be honest about your skill set. Avoid overselling yourself. You want your teammates to accept you for who you are now, not the idea of how great you could become after the hackathon.
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Credits: Unknown

Magic happens outside your comfort zone.

We needed to think of innovative, out-of-the-box solutions to solve issues related to Banking. We only thought of an idea after 3 hours has passed. To build the app, we use React Native, Google Cloud's Firebase and DialogFlow. We had to figure out all three within 20 hours. Let the hacking begin!

We learned by doing (we totally winged it) --- we figured out stuff through Googling, YouTube tutorials and seeking help from mentors. Our ability to perform under intense pressure was being put to test!

After the hackathon, we gained skills beyond our expectations. We built an app with intelligent chatbot and beautiful UI/UX to give a fun experience for users, all in less than 20 hours!

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After 24 hours of hacking, here comes the nerve-wracking judging session by Hong Leong Bank.

Teamwork is key.

We couldn't have made it to Top 10 without teamwork. When things didn't seem to go well, none of us played the Blame-Game. We were still figuring things out (we're not super-duper pros), and that's okay. One of the most important lessons in a hackathon is how you work together as a team --- helping one another and not be discouraged when we think we're falling behind. Instead of giving up halfway through the hackathon, we completed the app!


  • Be a source of positive energy to the team. Be nice. Your teammate may be anxious, self-doubting or going through something you don't know of.
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Our team, presenting to the judges on the first round. | Credits: JomHack

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We made it into the Top 10! Hurray!

Overcoming self-doubt, and realizing your worth

Sometimes the little voices in our heads convince us things like 'I'm not good enough'. Before the hackathon, I felt exactly that.

When the hackathon ended, we all demonstrated our final app for judges, mentors, and participants to test it out. We were overwhelmed by everyone's response. It was way better than what we've expected! We didn't do as bad as we thought after all. Of course, many aspects of the app could be improved, but the takeaway is we realized our self-worth. It was a huge confidence boost for us.

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Fresh, Hot Pizza at 11 PM!

What you get from joining a hackathon:

  • Learn new stuff, exceed your own expectations. You never unleash your true powers until you're in a hackathon. :D
  • Get to know like-minded, passionate friends with interesting life experiences. They might change your life.
  • Something cool to add into your CV.
  • Cool swag like stickers for your laptop. Cool shirts.
  • Good food & drinks. Thanks to the sponsors, we had snacks, fruits, jelly, various types of coffee, cup noodles, hot pizza, and ice cream!
  • Join the zombie tribe. Since it's a 24-hour hackathon, everyone's pretty much brain dead past midnight. It's funny to watch. Hahaha!
  • A fun, memorable experience that you get to share with friends and family.
  • If you're outstanding, you might get headhunted by the organizer/sponsors/startups.
  • AND... If your team wins, you get to bring home great prizes and a trophy!

If you're hesitating whether to join a hackathon, I highly recommend it.

You will not regret it. Thank you for taking the time to read this! I'm new to this --- If there's something you think I could improve on, feel free to comment below so I could do better next time. :)

About the Hackathon

'Can You Hack It' Kuala Lumpur is held on 27--28 April 2019, a 24-hour hackathon by Hong Leong Bank and Hong Leong Islamic Bank in collaboration with JomHack Malaysia. The environment was awesome and so much food we thought we're in heaven! :P

Rachel How
Hey, I'm Rachel How 👋
Designer & Solopreneur. I'm passionate about solopreneurship, diversifying our income, UI/UX design and productivity. Currently building my 8th income stream and sharing the lessons learnt along the way.

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