I Went To A Pleasanton Hackathon, and This Is What I Learned

*Written by Kanchan Naik, Founder and former Editor-in-Chief of The Roar

3 a.m. The sound of a rebooting Macbook Pro echoes in the distance, punctuated by the incessant clatter of a hundred keyboards. Someone sighs into a sleeping bag while instinctively reaching for another Pepsi. A charger is rammed into a USB port. The whole auditorium is suspended in an uneasy half-silence, but I don’t seem to hear it at all. Because I’m hunched over a 18-slide PowerPoint presentation, attempting to discern which specific shade of olive green would make my product seem the most appealing on a dandelion background. 

 These, and other seemingly insignificant details are the kind of battles Pleasanton teenagers waged at the annual Tri-Valley CryptoHacks competition hosted at the Pleasanton Senior Center. The first 24-hour hackathon in the area, CryptoHacks was organized with the help of Girls Who Code, the City of Pleasanton (led by Julian Mireles), the Foothill High School’s Cybersecurity club, and the Hack Club bank. With no specific requirements, the hackathon gave local highschoolers the freedom to create whatever they liked, from HTML-powered websites to social media apps to video games. The primary objective, however, was to showcase a product that would aid the  community or the environment. While most of the brainwork took place in the Senior Center’s cafeteria, participants could still loosen up with the ping pong table, foosball machine, and PlayStation outside. 

 For my partner (Wesley) and I, the experience was as thrilling as it was grueling. As  high school juniors and  computer science students, we’ve had our fair share of demanding deadlines, debugging sessions,  and barely-there bedtimes. But staring into a screen for roughly 24 hours is a hurdle of its own, accompanied by munchies, stubborn source code, and iPhones that randomly update in the middle night, nearly destroying your program altogether. And to top it all off, there’s the 9 am presentation in front of nearly twenty teams and a panel of judges, where you haphazardly explain your product while attempting to not trip over your pajamas. At the same time, however, there’s the dim euphoria of watching your application work for the first time, as well as the the tired joy of uploading a completed project onto your Github repository. There’s the pride in seeing your product appear on a giant projector, the results truly and entirely because of you. 

 My partner and I walked away from the 2020 CryptoHacks competition with awards, prize money, and sleeping bags that we couldn’t seem to rewrap. But we also left the Senior Center with a functioning project we called GreenTeam that we would later rework and enhance together. That’s the beauty of a hackathon — it brings so much spontaneous energy with it that there’s no room for hesitation, for backtracking away from an ambitious idea. You simply create.  I know that every teenager left CryptoHacks with baggy eyes, but also with a vision. 

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