Hackathons: how they transformed and led to an alternative career

Growing up, I was infatuated by technologies and computers. Tinkering and hacking electronics was a routine obsession before moving to Hong Kong for middle school, where STEM were regarded unpopular and less respected careers. So I entered college as a Business major, only to rediscover that I really liked CS. Before I know it, I applied for a major change in my freshmen year and joined an engineering fraternity in hopes of gaining mentorship in the new field. But contrary to my expectations I found no help when I needed it the most, instead failing intro classes as I misprioritized pledging over academics.

I naively thought I’d have a second chance, and didn’t take it too seriously initially because I told myself ‘I always loved computers’. When I found out after repeated appeals over years that my chances were close to zero, I ended in great despair, shocked at the unbelievable outcome as I took it all on myself and too seriously. Afterall, to be told that “you’ll probably not succeed in your lifelong passion because of your performance in your Calc I class” by virtual of a careless, innocent mistake, when I have been virtually following the passion since a boy, was shamefully heartbreaking. Over time, I lost my confidence, closed myself off, and wanted to give up on just about everything.

I later found emotional support in hackathons. It motivated me to devour knowledge like a maniac since I couldn’t learn the skills from school as a non-major. As I began to meet friends and help from industry professionals, I saw hope and decided to build my career back into CS. I relied heavily on alternate education, taking 16 Coursera courses and attending a tone of hackathons, while picking up a minor at school so I can take some fundamental classes like data structures. Then I prepped crazy for interviews while balancing a completely different major, and self-learned beyond syllabi to perform better than CS majors in technical classes. Last year, with convincing evidence of a notable internship, array of hackathon prizes and strong Professor recs, I “hacked” my way into the major, and have since been educating middle school kids of Computer Science, mentoring lower classmen and serving as teaching assistant so students don’t go through the same mistakes I made. Even today, I make sure I’m learning something new everyday. I’ve bid farewell to hackathons; finding myself with sheer motivation and interdisciplinary knowledge, I’m moving on to research to make the most use of my ability for the betterment of our world.

Learn. Build. Inspire.

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Published by

jaxball

Student at University of Southern California.

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