Don’t know how to code ? Go to a hackathon. by@Fadiazmy

Don’t know how to code ? Go to a hackathon.

June 15th 2015 6,896 reads
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Fadi Azmy

The best way to start writing code

Hackathon: “An event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.” - Oxford Dictionary

I'm a sophomore studying Maths at Western University in Canada. When I started university, I had 0% coding experience. Nine months later, I want to share what I learnt from attending hackathons and how others can make the most out of them.

The education you get out of a 2 day hackathon beats a CS introduction semester’s material any day.

Do I need to know how to code already ?

No you don’t.

Below are the topics you'll most likely to learn in your CS101 class (assuming you start with Java).

  • Primitive types
  • Objects
  • Classes

Covering these topics builds the foundation to teach you how to write good software (which is important), but not necessary to build a prototype app. Keep in mind this subtle difference.

But does it really matter ?


At hackathons, you typically come with your friends or make new friends in the opening ceremony (or even on the hackathon FB group!). Either way there'll be a brainstorming session in the beginning of the hackathon to find a team and come up with a hackathon idea.

Funny story: I was the only student from my university attending PennApps 2015 (UPenn), I made some amazing friends on the bus to the hackathon, and we ultimately built a cool productivity web app.

One of my team members, Manan, wrote about his experience going alone to a hackathon. I highly recommend this read !

If you’re coming to a hackathon with no/little coding experience, this can only mean one thing: you are going to learn how to write code.

Having some coding experience can help you pick up languages faster, but that generally only goes for shared concepts between languages such as Loops and functions.

Since you are familiar with the concepts, you just need to get familiar with the new syntax/coding style when picking up a new language.



There are mentors present at every hackathon. Their purpose is to help you in your projects and answer any questions you may have.

Mentors usually are current employees at sponsor companies (companies such as Facebook, Google, Bloomberg and Capital One etc.).

Personal note

Though I attended my first hackathon with 4 months of coding experience, that knowledge didn't really help me when I tried to build an Android app for the first time.

I visited my mentors every 45 minutes because I absolutely was clueless in the beginning. Mentors appreciate it when you have a genuine interest with hard question and that you show you tried solving the problems to the best of your knowledge.


Attend hackathons to not only meet new people (make new friends and establish relationships with mentors from sponsor companies), but you also learn how to manage relationship and most importantly you learn how to write code.

Learning how to writing code should not difficult, because you've the support of your teammates and mentors.

Where do I start ?

Devpost: a platform where you can see upcoming hackathons and also people’s previous hackathon projects.

University Hackathons: MLH supports most university hackathons in logistics and operations, so this is typically a good sign of hackathon quality.

More about Fady

I wrote my first line of code back in September 2014, and I attended my first hackathon in February 2015.

During the summer 2015 I've attended 4 more hackathons. I’ve tried to learn something new at every hackathon I attend. As a result, I’ve learnt how to prototype products faster, and pick up what’s important from the new languages I needed to learn.

By the end of that summer, I have been selected for 3 hackathon prizes (2x IBM Bluemix, and Intel Edison Award).

If you have any questions shoot me a message !


Thank you NBCUniversal for the picture I have used in the Mentors section and Aaron Randall for the article’s cover photo that you took at Facebook’s hackathon conference.

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