So, What is it Actually Like to Participate in a Hackathon?

Q + A with a NANOG Hackathon Alumni

by Elizabeth Drolet

  • June 30, 2021

You may have heard about this thing called a "Hackathon."

The weekend-long event that provides for epic networking, as fellow engineers from all over the world get together and share their passion for hacking; while having serious fun.

You are intrigued.

Yet, you are still on the fence. We get it, your time is valuable and who wants to get stuck committing to a weekend-long brain-drainer? That is why we have done the dirty work for you.

We asked a Hackathon alumni to share his experience.

Akshay Broota is a NANOG 77 Hackathon participant. He is a recent graduate of CU Boulder's Interdisciplinary Telecom Program with a Master's Degree in Network Engineering. He has a strong interest in scaling, maintaining, and troubleshooting large scale infrastructure systems and is currently working at Google Cloud as a Cloud TSE, Infra.

Fun Facts about Akshay: "I enjoy playing guitar as it instantly relaxes me and allows me to de-stress after a long day of work. I am also a passionate Manchester United fan and I have not missed watching a single game."

Q + A:

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Q: Were you involved in a remote Hackathon or in person or both?

A: I was involved in an in-person Hackathon. I have not been involved in a remote Hackathon so far. However, if I had to pick - I would prefer the in-person Hackathon, mainly because in-person interactions during the Hackathon lead to better networking opportunities.

Q: What is your favorite coding environment?

A: I like automating myself out of work and running my systems infrastructure as a code. Currently, I am enjoying using Terraform to automate my deployments to Google Cloud Platform. 

Q: Why did you decide to participate?

A: Students enrolled in the Network Engineering course at CU Boulder get a merit-based opportunity to participate in NANOG events. I was selected as a member of a 5 person team, by my professors in the Network Engineering course at CU Boulder, to represent our university at the NANOG 77 Hackathon and subsequently at the gathering. 

The Hackathon was a great opportunity for me as a student of Network Engineering. I had the opportunity to meet professionals from across the networking industry and learn about their experience and approach towards solving the problem at hand. Many of the participants had first-hand experience solving network engineering problems in a production environment. To be able to compete and learn from them during the event was a fantastic feeling. 

Q: What were your thoughts/feelings before the Hackathon and after? What surprised you about this experience? 

A: The NANOG 77 Hackathon was sponsored by Facebook and Tesuto. Before the Hackathon, we knew that this would be a splendid opportunity to work on one of the problems which Facebook might have encountered in their production environment. CU Boulder has a reputation for doing well at the NANOG Hackathon and we hoped we would get a good result too. We were nervous, excited, and ready to do our best during the Hackathon. 

During the Hackathon, we had network engineers from Facebook and Tesuto, guiding participants. We additionally had professionals from across the industry discussing strategies. Overall, the atmosphere was amazing and the sponsors did a great job organizing the event. It was interesting to witness how different teams came up with their own unique approaches to solving the problem. 

At the end of the event, we were extremely happy to have developed a feasible solution to the problem, which got us first prize by popular vote. As a team, we were very proud of ourselves and more importantly, we had a great learning experience.

Q: What is your favorite Hackathon memory?

A: During the Hackathon, my teammate and I were busy solving a part of the problem. We had a solution in theory, but we were unable to implement it in practice. We were spotted by one of the network engineers from Facebook and when we discussed our solution with him, he was quite impressed and guided us through our last obstacle to successfully implement the solution. The feeling of working together on a problem with industry experts, struggling, and then finally overcoming it to see your solution work is beautiful.

Q: In terms of professional networking and/or meeting new friends, did you meet anyone that you remain in contact with?

A: We met with a lot of professionals at the event. We discussed the current state-of-the-art technologies in the networking industry and it was interesting to learn about different problems being worked upon by the biggest companies in the industry. I met with a few engineers from Verizon Media, Facebook, Cisco, Microsoft, with whom I still maintain contact. Hands down, this would be the best networking opportunity for any student.

Q: What was your biggest takeaway from the event?

A: My biggest takeaway from the event would be the learning and all the professional connections we made while working together towards developing a solution to a common problem. 

Q: Will you attend another Hackathon?

A: Of course!  I am sure it will be another great experience.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: I would like to thank the faculty of Network Engineering at CU Boulder, NANOG, and all the sponsors for this wonderful opportunity! I would love to see more students getting involved in future NANOG Hackathons. This would be a great opportunity for them to learn, meet new people and kickstart their professional career in the networking industry.

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Elizabeth Drolet

Elizabeth Drolet is NANOG's Multimedia Story Producer

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