Hacking the West Coast, Texas style

I visited San Francisco a few weeks ago, and it was such a weird experience.

You see, 11 years ago, a scared little ten-year-old stepped off of a plane from the Phillipines and arrived in San Francisco, unaware that everything familiar in his life was behind him now.

Yet, at that time, I still did not realize how different my life would become and how difficult it would be when I fully realized how painful it was to lose connection to everything I used to define myself.

Fast forward to a few years later: I stepped off another plane at the same place. Being back in San Francisco was surreal. A man had taken the place of the boy (or so I’d like to think).

Instead of forsaking everything I knew and loved, I was visiting the Bay Area, specifically UC Berkeley, for a hackathon. I am a different person now, a senior in a prestigious university, about to enter the American workforce in a few months (fingers crossed). Instead of a layover that lasted a day, I was going to be there for three days with a group of people.

Let me back up a bit: what is a hackathon?

Let me stat by saying that here is nothing nefarious or shady about this event. In fact, it was a very business-oriented event, since many companies were there looking for students and many students were there looking for companies. Some were also there to make millions of dollars.

People came from all over the nation to Berkeley just to sit in a room for three days straight. They were there to sit in front of a computer for three days to make an app, a program or a website.

It’s crazy how passionate and absorbed everyone was with the hackathon. There were thousands of students there, crammed in three floors of UC Berkeley’s beautiful Memorial Stadium. People took naps – no one really slept for the three days – outside on the lawn in their sleeping bags and fueled themselves with tons and tons of snacks and sodas.

As a hackathon attendee, I can tell you that they are such an anomalous event. I can’t think of anything else like it. It was even weirder attending one in the Bay Area. Everyone and their mom was absorbed in this startup culture like nothing I have seen before, and everyone had an app idea. It was this culture that I never realized thrived so strongly.

I knew the startup culture was strong in the Bay Area, but I never expected the ridiculous HBO show “Silicon Valley” to be pretty true to life.

By the end of the hackathon, I was cold, hungry, uncomfortable, tired and very gross, but I was thankful for the experience.

We did not win anything but everyone we talked to liked our idea. However, decided as a group to keep working on our idea and, one day, maybe we’ll get enough work done on it to release it.

I actually had some time to do requisite tourist stuff as well. I actually had some time to do requisite tourist stuff this time before I left. We had a hot dog from Top Dog, saw tons of people smoke weed and even drove on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Life in America has not been perfect and I doubt I’ll ever make a billion dollars, but being in Berkeley that weekend made me think I won that hackathon just by being there.

You see, I am my own unlikely startup story. I may not have a blue passport, but I‘ve found a place that I choose to call home after leaving the home I was born into.

Which is Texas, because, frankly, the Bay Area is just WAY too weird for me to live in.

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John Mendiola is the Web Master and an Arts & Entertainment Reporter for the Trinitonian. He is a senior computer science and communication major from Houston, Texas (though originally Manila, Philippines). This is his 4th year working for the newspaper.