My Experience at Swamphacks, UF’s Hackathon

A few weekends ago, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, I participated in Swamphacks VI, the hackathon hosted by UF. It was my very first time participating in a hackathon. Hackathons hosted by colleges typically include students from universities all over the country to form teams and solve a challenge over the span of one to three days. Swamphacks was a 36-hour challenge.

One common misconception with participating in hackathons is that you need programming experience or need to major in, but it’s not true. Anyone can apply to participate regardless of major or experience. All you need to do is apply for the event before the deadline and get selected. Hackathons are generally free, with meals and snacks included from the companies that sponsor the event. Also, some hackathons reimburse traveling costs. Swamphacks provided reimbursements to all students who traveled from other cities given they applied on time to receive one.

I initially felt very nervous since this was my first hackathon. But I knew that it would be great experience. I follow Swamphacks on social media, so when applications were open, I eagerly applied. I counted down the days. I packed everything I would need, preparing to stay overnight at the Marston Science Library, where the hackathon was hosted for the first night.

I met my teammates using the Swamphacks Slack – the primary source of communication for the Swamphacks organizers and all the participants in the event. The next 36 hours involved us intensely working on our project. We were up very late the first night. At about 3 a.m., I decided I needed some rest. We were working on the main floor of Marston near the main entrance. To make a makeshift bed, my teammates and I put three small armchairs together. I collapsed on it and did my best to get some sleep.

We also had a great number of sources to use for our project. Many companies provided tools like Google Cloud we could use to create our projects. There were mentors we could ask questions to. At the end of the event, we had judges determine the winners of the different awards like for the overall competition company-specific coding challenges. It felt very rewarding to have a completed project. We had a closing ceremony where awards were given out.

My experience was very positive. I met students from UF and other schools and felt surprised with how closely I bonded with my teammates and others in the span of just three days. I also ran into a quite a few friends I knew from classes and organizations on campus. I got an opportunity to network and speak with companies in an environment less formal than career showcase.

I enjoyed that this event means that you’ll never get bored or hungry. Restaurants like Flying Biscuit Café for one of the breakfasts and Tijuana Flats for lunch were both filling and great quality. We had copious amounts of snacks in-between meals. And when we needed a break from working on our project, there were tech talks and other fun games and activities.

I had an amazing time at my first hackathon and would definitely do one again. Ever since, I’ve been looking up what nearby colleges have hackathons, planning in advance for my next one. I’m a bit sad that I just discovered how amazing hackathons were during my last year of undergraduate school. But I know that companies also host hackathons, and there are other events out there for technical professionals, so I’m hopeful for my future. I can also sign up to be a mentor or volunteer in hackathons regardless if I’m a student. If you are considering taking part in a hackathon, I highly recommend it!