Why I Go to Hackathons as a Business Major

By: Joseph Schnackertz

Joseph Schnackertz is currently a junior in the Wentworth Business Management program. He shared with us his journey to realizing the value in the skills he brings to hackathons. Read his story below and check out his winning hackathon contributions here.

Students hacking in lab space

You may be thinking…

“Why should I go to a hackathon?” The best way to answer that, is to know what a hackathon is. A hackathon, in its most basic form, is a collection of teams working to solve problems. So, if you like developing solutions to society’s greatest problems like pollution, housing, rising water levels, social injustice and more, then hackathons are a place for you!

“But I can’t code…” That’s the first thing people who have never touched a compiler say when they are invited to a hackathon. I, myself, am guilty of this way of thinking. In high school and my first year of college I had the opportunity to attend multiple hackathons, but I never did. I am like so many others that either don’t know how to or simply don’t enjoy coding. Today, I am here to disrupt the status quo. In the last year I have been to three hackathons, built three teams of total strangers, did some work, and won all three times. The following is the story of my journey and how I overcame my insecurities and looked inward to see what I had to offer.

Student hacking independently

“So, what can I bring to the table if I can’t code?” That’s the question I asked myself when I considered going to a hackathon my university was sponsoring. I was afraid of slowing the group down, I was afraid of being looked at like an idiot, but most importantly I was afraid of being bored. But instead of trying to learn the basics of coding in less than two weeks, I looked toward my strengths. I asked myself what skills, knowledge, personality traits, and/or interests I already had.

“What skills could I offer my team?” Looking inward was the best thing I could have done before my first hackathon. It was then that I realized I was a team builder, an idea guy, and dabbled in graphic design. I recognized the value of what I could bring to the table, and how I could enhance my soon to be team members. Remember, it’s about complementing the skills of other members of your team!

“Wow, you’ve got a knack for JavaScript!!”

No, not like that. Though it is nice to complement people, it is better to have one person that is good at collecting decent fire wood and another be an ace fire builder than two people that can collect decent wood. Remember, the skills you bring are valuable!

All that being said, don’t think that you can come to a hackathon unprepared. Be sure to know some basic vocabulary of code before you show up. So, when someone says, “I’m fluent in Python,” you don’t think that the person needs to be sorted into the House of Slytherin. Consider watching some “basics in coding” videos to gain a general understanding of how code works, but not expecting to be able to write it proficiently. This will arm you with the basic knowledge of what will be discussed and enable you to not only contribute more to the project but also walk away from the event having had a better experience.

Lastly, at the conclusion of the hackathon be sure to exchange contact information with your teammates. Get phone numbers, Snapchats, LinkedIns, Facebooks, Instagrams, Twitters, GitHubs, Devposts or other social media profiles. Beyond teammates, you can connect on LinkedIn with event organizers, sponsors, speakers, volunteers and other people who you engaged with throughout the event. The connections you make at these events can, if you continue to foster them, become invaluable when you begin your co-op/job search.

I walked away from these hackathons with a new outlook on what hackathons were, a wildly different view of my skill sets, and of course fifty stickers with some random Octocat in different outfits.

The society we know has marketed and branded the word hackathon; slapping a label on it saying ‘Computer Science Students Only’ in big red letters. It’s a shame, and a huge missed opportunity for people like me and you who feel we couldn’t offer anything. Be the one who has the confidence and passion to seek these amazing opportunities. Recognize the value of the skills you have! Make something great! Meet brilliant people! And harness your creativity and team spirit!

Winning student hackathon team

Here is a list I developed of some crucial players on a great hackathon team. These roles are not reserved for any type of person or any major, feel free to assume a role if you have had related experience. For example, you can be a JavaScript Jedi and be the Team Developer. Feel free to design your own role too!

  • Designer – Do you like to make graphics? Then you can provide a key service of UX design.
  • Empathizer – Have you directly experienced the problem that is the focus of the hack? If so, your knowledge is invaluable.
  • Brainstormer – Can you think outside the box and drive others to think critically?
  • Team Developer – How well can you organize people, make sure voices are heard, and keep people on task? If you can, then team development may come easy.
  • Public Speaker – Can you present well in front of an audience? Many hackathons require pitches/demos to whole crowds, that could be your time to shine.
  • Question Master – Like to get to the bottom of things? Be the one to speak up in the group, ask why you all think this is the best solution to the problem, ask what could be better, ask if this solution focuses on the problem/user.
  • Coding Wizard – Love to code? Great, then you’ve got your work cut out for you.
  • Hardware Hacker – Many hackathons have hardware portions, leverage your skills to produce a unique hack!

Thank you, Joe, for sharing your experience with Wentworth CO-OPS + CAREERS! If you are interested in participating in a hackathon organized by Wentworth students, follow HackWITus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hackwitus or check out their website: https://hackwit.us/.

How to Work Transferable Skills Into Your Resume

By: Kristen Eckman

During the beginning stages of hiring, many employers, especially in the STEM fields, are focused on hard skills (i.e. specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured, such as the ability to use software programs). However, when determining the ultimate hirability of a candidate, soft or transferable skills are in the forefront of employers’ minds. If you feel your hard skills are lacking, or you want to differentiate yourself during the final stages, focus on the transferable skills you have to offer. 

What are Transferable Skills?

Transferable skills are the aptitude and knowledge that you acquire through any experience that can be transferred to future employment settings. According to Wikipedia, “A transferable skill is an ability or expertise which may be used in a variety of roles or occupations.” They are less tangible and harder to quantify than hard skills.

Examples include:

  • Interpersonal or customer service skills (such as diplomacy, negotiation, and collaboration)
  • Communication skills (such as writing, speaking, and presenting)
  • Leadership skills (such as delegation, scheduling, and training)
  • Self-Management (such as professionalism, organizational skills, and time-management skills)
  • Critical thinking (such as problem solving, decision making, and analysis)

Student writing

How Do I Identify or Gain Transferable Skills?

When identifying the transferable skills that you may already have, think about what past professors, teammates, or managers have said that you do well. Transferable skills can be gained from any experience including:

  • Education:
    • Completing academic projects and papers show research, analytical, and presentation skills
    • Group projects help you practice communication and collaboration skills
    • Managing a heavy class load or balancing school with work impart organizational skills and time management
  • Co-op:
    • Collaborating with multi-departmental teams instills communication and interpersonal skills
    • Taking the lead on a project teaches project management, problem solving, organizational skills, and the ability to prioritize and take initiative
    • Explaining complex technical points to laypeople uses communication skills
  • Unrelated Work Experience:
    • Supervising people demonstrates leadership, training, or delegation skills
    • Working on several stations or projects at once leads to skills in multi-tasking
    • Learning to be prompt, adhering to deadlines, and staying focused on work related duties are all aspects of professionalism
    • Interacting with customers, clients, or managers develops interpersonal and communication skills
  • Volunteering, Sports Team, Participating in an Organization, or a Personal Project/Hobby:
    • Depending on the experience, these can be opportunities to develop skills such as event planning, organization, team work, leadership, problem solving, negotiation, or teaching

How Do I Highlight Transferable Skills?

Examine job descriptions to see what employers in your industry value. Use the key words and action verbs mentioned in the job description on your resume and in your cover letter. Sometimes employers use applicant tracking systems or ATS to screen incoming resumes for keywords relevant to the particular job. Resumes that contain more of the keywords that employers are looking for will be ranked higher by the ATS. This is why it is a good idea to not only tailor each cover letter you send but each resume as well.

  • Resumes
    • Add a Leadership section to highlight supervisory experience, volunteer work, or group membership
    • Use strong actions verbs that convey your transferable skills to begin each bullet
    • See the Wentworth Action Verbs handout
  • Cover Letters
    • Tailor each cover letter to each job description by matching your transferable skills with the ones used in the job description.
    • Provide examples. Use scenarios and short stories to demonstrate the skills you have that are mentioned in the job description.
  • Interviews
    • Use your transferable skill examples when answering questions such as “Tell me about yourself”, “What are your strengths?”, and “Why should we hire you?”.
    • Share your examples that showcase how you used or developed the specific transferable skills that the employer is looking for. Organize your examples by using the PAR Method: Project + Action = Result.
    • At the end of the interview you may be asked, “Is there anything you would like to add that we didn’t get to discuss?”. This is a great opportunity to share your transferable skill examples that you didn’t get to mention.
    • Also at the end of the interview, you will be asked, “Do you have any questions for me?”. Ask, “What characteristics does a successful person have in this organization?”. Listen to the answer and then reply with your transferable skill example that matches the characteristics that they mentioned.
  • LinkedIn
    • List transferable skills in your skills section and get endorsements
    • Talk about skills you have gained from past experiences in your summary or experience section
    • Ask for recommendations from past managers that focus on your transferable skills
    • See the LinkedIn Cheat Sheet & the Wentworth LinkedIn Guide

As always, to make an appointment with your Co-op + Career Advisor call the front desk at 617.989.4101 or stop by the CO-OPS + CAREERS Office.