Last weekend, October 27 and 28, I participated in my first Hack OHI/O Hackathon. Before coming to Ohio State, I had attended hackathons before. However, I had never attended a 24-hour, non-stop hacking competition. When I first learned about this event, I was intimidated; how could a freshman with minimal college experience be able to compete against older, more talented students? I spoke with several students and teachers before the event, and they all recommended participating in the event simply for the experience of teaching myself a new skill. I did not truly understand how I could benefit from such an informal learning environment until I was at the hackathon.
At the hackathon, I was surround by over 700 students who all had the same goal: create something amazing. Everyone interpreted this prompt in various ways, and projects ranged from robotics and virtual reality to software apps and websites. For me, the first few hours of the hackathon were spent trying to figure out what to make and how to make it. My partner, Avery Warner, and I both had different programming backgrounds. I had only ever worked with Java, and Avery had worked with R. For our project, we wanted to create something that would help better inform individuals about natural disasters, specifically hurricanes, in their area. We decided to create an easy to use application that allows individuals to see the path of past hurricanes, their wind speed, and their category classification. Since R is used to tidy data and create clear data visualizations, we used R to create an RShiny application.
Although Avery had worked with R before to tidy data, he had never used R to create an RShiny app. I learned quite a bit about tidying data from Avery, and we both learned a lot about making RShiny apps together with the help of Google. Throughout the process of creating the app, it was very easy to become discouraged when concepts became harder to understand. However frustrating the application became, I was able to learn a valuable lesson: anyone is able to learn a new skill if they are willing to try. I never really considered, or appreciated, how much information is at our fingertips thanks to the internet. This hackathon helped me realize that no one knows how to do everything, but being able to teach oneself new concepts and adapt to new environments is a skill that is often underappreciated.
The application that Avery and I built, called IMPACT: Hurricane, is far from perfect, but it was the first step to improving my ability to learn new skills without formal instruction. I am very grateful for the experience that Hack OHI/O provided me with, and I look forward to improving IMPACT: Hurricane as well as teaching myself new skills in the future.