Home > Articles

Hacking for (mostly) Fun and (a little) Profit—How I Got into Programming through Hackathons

Jennie Lamere, the now-18-year-old winner of Hill Holliday's TVnext Hack, describes how she got into computer programming, the challenge of taking programming classes at an all-girls school, and the events that led to her create Twivo—the hack that got her an internship at Twitter.
Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend

I live in New Hampshire, so hiking in the White Mountains has always been a hobby of mine. My Dad and I go as often as we can. While the topics of our conversations change, we inevitably talk about his work. My Dad works at The Echonest, a company whose product is their music API. My Dad was always going to music hackathons. (Hackathons are not when people try to break into computers, but rather when people try to develop new apps—75 to 200 people working nonstop for 24 hours to bring their ideas to life.) As we hiked, my Dad would tell me about his latest hack. One hike, he asked me for ideas. Together, we came up with the idea for what would soon be known as Jennie’s Ultimate Roadtrip. The user inputs artists and the start and end location, and receives a map of a tour he should take based on where artists are touring. I ended up tagging along with my Dad and helped him out with the hack. Granted, he did most of the work, but being at the event and playing around with HTML definitely sparked an interest.

From there, I started taking some classes in computer science. Although they weren’t exactly challenging, they kept me interested, and I built a solid foundation in programming. I went to an all-girls school, so finding computer science classes to take was difficult. The lack of classes and the lack of interest by other girls in the school made it challenging for me to learn about coding in school. I ended up taking an online class in computer science this year. There’s always a lot of talk about what people can do to get girls interested in programming, which is why I found it weird that there weren’t more resources at my school. I had to go to a nearby coed school to be on a FIRST Robotics team. At my graduation, awards were presented to students in all subjects, such as art, science, history and music—but there was no award for computer classes. Overall, I found that I wasn’t able to learn what I felt I needed to know at school, which is why I hacked instead.

In all, I’ve gone to five hackathons. It’s at these events that I was able to develop the skills needed to be a computer programmer. Each time I attend I learn a new skill—JavaScript and APIs were foreign concepts to me before hackathons. Just this year, I started taking hackathons more seriously. I went to the Music Hack Day in Boston in November with my friend Barbara Duckworth. It was her first hackathon, and my first one working without my Dad. The first few hours were pretty rough, but once we got into it, time flew by. We only knew how to code in Java, but ended up writing in JavaScript. Our hack was called High Five Hero, and used a tool called MaKey MaKey to add a soundtrack to hand clapping games. Although it didn’t even compare to some of the other hacks, it wasn’t too shabby for our first hack.

More importantly, this hackathon got Barbie and I excited about programming. Although music hackathons were the only ones we had ever gone to, we decided to sign up for the Tufts Hackathon in February. We made a hack called Cinemusic (code viewable at https://github.com/jlamere/cinemusic) written in Java. Although it was challenging, Barbie and I had gotten the hang of working together. The user inputs music artists, and then receives movies he should watch based on the soundtrack. After that hackathon, where we received the Rookie Award, I figured that would be the last hackathon of the year.

A few months later, my Dad started talking to me about the Hill Holliday TVNext Hackathon. We started talking about different hacks he could do, which led him to tell me that I should sign up. I thought about it for a few days, but ultimately decided to sign up. The day before, we were still brainstorming. As we started talking about Twitter, I came up with the idea that would hide Tweets of a TV show until the user is ready to watch them, at which point they would stream down, as if the Tweets were live. As we talked about the app, I realized my Dad expected me to work on my own. This made me pretty nervous, as I had never worked on my own before. I had no idea how to do the app, but I thought it would give it a try anyway.

The hackathon itself was very nice. It was well planned and had beautiful views. It was the usual hackathon scene—lots of guys who look at least ten years older than me. There were a few other girls, but I don’t think any of them ended up presenting. The other hackers were all super friendly and were eager to start their projects. This hackathon was a little different than most. First of all, the stakes were much bigger than normal, as there were big prizes. Second, there were categories in which people competed. The following day the category winners competed against each other for the grand prize.

My hack, which I decided to call Twivo, was probably the shortest hack I’ve ever written. It was nice to be able to sit next to my Dad, who was able to help me with a few obstacles that were unfamiliar to me. I used a tool called Greasemonkey, which was super helpful, but also caused a few unexpected problems. All in all, I was able to get a fairly decent night of sleep—something unusual at hackathons. The next day, I would have to present in front of other hackers and a panel of judges. I much prefer to sit behind a computer, not stand in front of a large group, so I was pretty nervous. When I’m that nervous my hands start shaking, which makes a job like using a computer very difficult, so I even pre-typed what I needed to present. Then, I practiced and practiced. Finally, it was my turn to present. I said everything that I knew needed to be said, and thought that others reacted nicely to my hack. Then, it was time for the judges to ask questions. Again, I thought I did well enough to possibly win my category. I wanted to win the Klout prize for using their API in my hack. I ended up winning the Mashery prize as well. Finally, I won my category prize. I was super pumped—I wasn’t even expecting to be a contender for that prize. It was completely amazing.

The next day, I got to go in front of another panel at the Hill Holliday TVNext Summit. This time, I was more confident in my hack, after receiving some positive feedback. Again, I won. It was crazy to see the live voting go down, especially because I was winning. Because all of the hacks were awesome, we all got a $2,500 prize! As I was eating dinner with my Dad that night, he said “Everything is crazy right now, but trust me, it will all die down in about three days.” Boy, was he wrong.

The media slowly picked up on my story. First there was the story on Evolver.FM. Then, it slowly got picked up by other media. A week or two later, things got crazy. I was doing over 10 interviews a day, there were camera crews coming to my house, and here I was just trying to graduate high school. In all, I have been on the BBC, LA Times, Good Morning America and Fox News, to name a few. Originally, I was going to work at a summer camp as a junior counselor. Now, I’m preparing to start at Twitter in Boston as an intern. My fifteen minutes of fame have been absolutely crazy. I never would have expected that ten hours of code could have led to all of this. While I’ve enjoyed it all, I am excited to enjoy my time at Twitter this summer, and then start at Rochester Institute of Technology, for Software Engineering.

For more articles and resources, visit our Women in Technology page.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020