Hello everyone! I’m Maria Dunning, MLH Hackathon Community Manager at Major League Hacking (MLH), and this is my journey from student hacker to joining MLH full-time!

I started attending hackathons in 2016 after my Intro to Computer Science class at The University of Texas at Dallas had a guest come to our classroom to talk about different ways to learn new technologies. TAMUHack was my first hackathon, and I learned a lot that weekend. Not only did my team pivot project ideas multiple times, but we also had to change platforms. One of my recommendations for new hackers is to download IDE’s ahead of time even if you may not use them because it is easier to do the download at home and just set up at the event instead of trying to download on the event wifi. While possible, it is a boring delay when you want to start coding with your team. It was also my first introduction to cup stacking, which quickly became my favorite mini-event at any of the hackathons I attended. 


Maria preparing for cup-stacking event

In 2018, after attending a few more hackathons and a Local Hack Day near me, I applied to become a Coach with MLH and was accepted into the program. My first event was Lumohacks which was also my first time out of the country! Something about being a Coach worked well with my schedule and let me travel and attend even more events where I could help other hackers.

Maria at HackUTDI also got involved in organizing my university’s event, HackUTD, as Logistics Coordinator. Our main focus was to switch our longstanding venue to the new computer science building and figure out how to coordinate the largest hackathon in North Texas. The year after that I became Director. One aspect I was particularly proud of was the increase in sponsor involvement and workshops to give more learning opportunities before and during the event. I also brought my team to Hackcon VII, to help prepare the next generation of our organizers.

In January 2019, I became a GitHub Campus Expert and hosted a few workshops at local hackathons to give new hackers an introduction to git and GitHub, one of what I consider the most important starting points for working together with a team and keeping good version control. I was also able to meet other Campus Experts at Hackcon and later that year at GitHub Universe, a developer conference in San Francisco.

Later in 2019, I went to the Grace Hopper Celebration, a conference for women in technology,  in Florida where I found my full-time job at GEICO Technology Solutions. After graduating from the University of Texas at Dallas, I stopped Coaching with MLH for 2 years and moved to Maryland to focus on my first full-time job, but ended up missing hackathons too much. I started the process to come back to weekend coaching in December of 2021. 

Attending events again rekindled my interest in doing more hackathon-related work, and after talking with a few full-time MLHers, I applied for Hackathon Community Manager, and here I am today! With experience at 30 hackathons in varying roles as attendee, organizer, mentor, and MLH Coach, I am looking forward to helping empower even more hackers!

Happy Hacking! Stay connected with me on LinkedIn.