Stories of Giving: How to Hack a Hackathon

Sofia is currently the Program Manager for Customer Success Operations at TextbookHub. In this role, she spends her time overseeing the customer support team and developing procedures and documentation so that customer support, product development, sales and marketing work together harmoniously.

Sofia, in a blue shirt, assisting a team at nwHacks.

Over the years, Sofia has been involved in various independent programs related to technology mentorship and education with young people. She has taught 7th grade students Robotics and mentored teens and elementary school students at web development camps through the Vancouver chapter of Canada Learning Code.

Her most recent work has been mentoring university students at Western Canada’s biggest hackathons nwHacks 2020 and cmd-f 2020, and by serving as a volunteer web developer for the TEDx SFU 2019 conference. Today Sofia mentors the TEDx SFU Creative team in preparation for their 2020 conference (and 10th anniversary)!

When mentoring at hackathons and technology youth camps, the day starts early in order to cram as much learning and festivities as possible into the short one day or weekend event. Hackathons and youth tech camps are typically held in large conference facilities or in the offices of software companies in Vancouver. A Hackathon typically has a theme and groups work together during the event to create and sometimes compete for the best solution. Sofia’s role as mentor is to walk around the actively working tables of teams and when they raise their hand or send a message on the hackathon Slack, she joins the table to offer her help.

When Sofia finds a team needing assistance, she asks for an overview of their project and their problem. She uses her knowledge as a working Program Manager at TextbookHub and her university classes. She shares resources available online for use at the moment or she can demonstrate with her laptop.

When mentoring at nwHacks 2020, Sofia spent a lot of time mentoring a novice designer and his team. They were trying to develop a mobile application which tracks a user’s carbon emissions and motivates them to reduce it through rewards and gamification. After many hours and late nights over the weekend, they made significant progress on their application. Sofia shared specifics on the product design process and methods and also answered career questions about the design industry in Vancouver. She was proud to witness them finish their app from scratch over that weekend and win one of the Top 7 prizes out of 150+ teams.

Sofia believes that education and lifelong learning is the way people can get to know the world better and improve themselves and that’s a primary motivation for her volunteering and community involvement.


Volunteering tips from Sofia:

  • Mentoring at hackathons and technology camps are a lot like teaching – you definitely need a lot of patience because you are trying to teach someone a concept or how to do something for the first time, so they might not understand right away.
  • Volunteering your weekend away to mentor or support conferences like TEDx SFU also takes stamina as you’re on your feet all day and into the night.
  • Lastly, being a good listener is very important.


“My role at TextbookHub boils down to this one skill – it’s not my previous background in design or web development, but listening to other software developers, customers, and schools and their account managers. When students at these hackathons and technology camps have a problem, sometimes all they need is to talk about their problem to someone who can listen and help them solve it. By the time they finish telling me their problem and answering my follow-up questions about it, they often realize they already found their solution. Organizing TED talks also requires good listening skills, as you’re helping others build a stage to tell their stories.”


Learn more about the organizations Sofia volunteers at!

  • nwHacks is Western Canada’s largest 24-hour hackathon! If you have design or coding experience, you can register to participate, mentor or volunteer.
  • TEDxSFU is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together for a TED-like experience. For our friends in the United States, check out TED!

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