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How I Won the Deloitte Hackathon

An exercise in overcoming Imposter Syndrome and leaning in to it.

Going in to the Deloitte Hackathon, I had many fears of not being good enough. In fact, there was no way I would participate if I weren't forced to do so by General Assembly. I am so grateful for the experience. We won!

I'm ecstatic on several levels. Before I tell you how we did it, let me celebrate a few things:

  • My team is awesome
  • My team was all people of color
  • My team is the only one who had a woman on it
  • We worked our butts off, we answered the question full and we deserved to win


One of the problems that I battle, along with most in the field, is Imposter Syndrome. According to Wikipedia: "Imposter Syndrome is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a 'fraud'."

Years ago, I participated in coding hackathons regularly. They were never good experiences. I was often one of the few women and people of color. I was subject to crass jokes, often overruled when I was right, and had my good ideas dismissed. So when my instructors announced that we'd have to do a hackathon, at superfancy Deloitte, I was not happy. At all. But, I did it anyway. I am incredibly grateful to General Assembly for building this into our curriculum. Good move, GA. Valuable lessons learned.


Now that that's out of the way, let's get to how my team won.


1) Follow instructions. Follow instructions. Follow instructions.

So, read the instructions, guys. I usually read instructions out loud, and then again, and then again. Because it's easy for our brains to trick us. So read ALL the instructions guys, before you do anything.

2) Set a timeline and stick to it

It's easy to run out of time in a hackathon. So, before you do anything else, set a time to STOP working, and work backwards from there. Seriously, if there is one thing you can walk away with, I implore you to manage your time effectively. Stop when time is up. Take a break and rejuvenate for at least 40 minutes. And stick to your deadlines.

3) Write down, agree on, and answer your guiding questions

Right there in the instructions you thoroughly read, are your guiding questions. Write down 2 -4 guiding questions. What's a guiding question you ask? The internet says, "It is the fundamental query that directs the search for understanding."

Seriously, write down your guiding questions. And put it on a slide. And systematically answer them as a team.

If I had a nickel for every hackathon I was in where folks spent hours and hours making something shiny, and cool, and totally irrelevant to the questions at hand....I'd be rich!

Answer the problems you're presented with. Answer them in full.

4) Divide up roles and responsibilities that match abilities

No one is good at everything. If you're lucky, you're good at some things. If you're normal, you're good at one or two things. So do that thing well. On a side note, a hackathon is no good time to have a power battle. Figure out that mess in the first 30 minutes so you can get it done. If you're salty about not being the leader, suck it up. I know it sounds brutal, but a hackathon is no time to work on your authority issues. Do it for the team, friend.

5) Keep an open mind

While this is the cliché of all clichés, it is true. It's so important to keep an open mind. With an open mind, I am able to code better. With an open mind, I am able to research better. With an open mind, I can follow guiding questions, write better ones and better answer research questions.

So, there you have it. Follow those 5 steps to, at the very least, have fun at a hackathon at a superfancy consulting firm.

Again, I am truly grateful to General Assembly, to Deloitte and to my teammates for the wonderfully enriching experience. Overall, I have faced zero discrimination. Thanks to GA, I am free to learn, to break things, to fail, to fly. It is a wonderful, wonderful, thing.

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