Everything you need to know about Hackathons
As a college student, I bounce on every opportunity I can to have fun or further my career. A hackathon combines both. I’m a Computer Science major that can find it hard to code personal projects outside of class. Hackathons motivate me and give me time to explore these passions. In this article, we will take a deep dive into hackathons
What is a Hackathon?
Hackathon is a word creation of the words hack(-ing) and marathon. In this context, hacking stands for the development of software- or hardware solution and the marathon describes the format, which is a 1–3 days lasting event. Usually, it takes place in a spacious venue, which fits sometimes several hundred hackers.
Nowadays, hackathons are taking place completely online, due to the Corona outbreak. The goal of a hackathon is to develop a solution for a given problem. The solution can be in different forms: it could be a pitch deck containing the concept and business model, a mockup/wireframe of an app, or functioning software or hardware prototypes.
Who can attend Hackathons?
It depends on the rules and kind of hackathon but you can usually count on developers, designers, project managers, and maybe some people with experience developing hardware. Skill levels and experience also vary greatly. As a student or someone new to development, you may experience what many call "imposter syndrome" when thinking of going to a hackathon. In other words, you may believe you are too green to contribute which may lead to a bad experience and embarrassment. Don't let that worry prevent you from joining. New developers, designers, and people with less formal roles than that are always welcome
Do I need to have programming experience?
NO. You don’t. The organizers usually hold workshops throughout the hackathon for anyone who is new to programming or someone who wishes to learn more about a particular topic. Mentors are also available 24/7. So if you go to a hackathon without knowing what you want to do, that’s totally fine because you will have these mentors at your service to help and guide you.
Dos & Don’ts
DO pair up with people you haven’t met before
I went with a group of My college students, but we ended up pairing with other college students, and they had a lot of insight to offer as a front-end visual designer. Plus, you make new friends that can tell you about life at their colleges!
DON’T spend the entire time in the hacking space:
You’re in a new place (most likely)! Feel free to explore campus when you get the chance and snap some pictures of the misty graveyard or gothic buildings. Many of the small meetings offered by organizers will also likely relocate somewhere outside of the hacking space.
DO accept that your stress personality will come out:
If you’re doing everything right, then you’re likely nowhere near being finished with your project by the last evening of the hackathon. This is when you pull an all-nighter to get a minimum viable product out, cutting corners (or probably more than just corners) to have something to present the next morning. This puts a lot of stress on you; you can expect your stress personality to rear its ugly head, and you may scare your teammates. At least I did.
DON’T be a perfectionist:
This was my biggest mistake. The products coming out of hackathons are not by any means expected to be usable; essentially, you are rapid-prototyping a way to communicate your vision to the judges. Just that can get you a long way. In general make something generally functional, rather than perfect in some aspects and completely broken in others.
Most importantly, DO enjoy your time!:
Hackathons are meant to be a learning experience! If you didn’t have fun by the end of it, then you did it wrong. And that’s the only way to do it wrong. Now that I’ve bestowed upon you my infinite wisdom (coming from my experience at one entire hackathon, mind you), go sign up for a hackathon! I promise you that it’ll be worth your weekend.
Reasons To Attend a Hackathon
Showcase Your Skills:
While hackathons are a great way for everyone to meet and collaborate with others in their field of expertise, there’s also a competitive side. Hackathons challenge attendees to exhibit their ability to innovate and create compelling, real-world solutions, utilizing the latest devices and technology. It’s also a chance to demonstrate specific skills that you aren’t able to showcase elsewhere.
Learn About Tech:
One of the biggest benefits of attending a hackathon is learning new skills and attaining new knowledge. According to coding society Hackerstolz, you might gain more knowledge than you would in six months, due to the learning-by-doing approach employed at hackathons. You can also soak up information from fellow attendees — including ideas you may never have gained in the classroom or from a book.
Share Your Ideas:
At its heart, a hackathon is a deeply collaborative effort. To get the most out of these events, attendees need to be willing to share their expertise with others, ensuring that everyone learns from everyone else. For example, experts in security can learn from designers about how to better implement their features, and app designers can learn how to better protect personal information. Hardware and software specialists can better learn how to work with each others’ tools — everyone learns something new.
It can be very easy to remain in your comfort zone, doing things you know how to do and never really challenging yourself. At hackathons, there is no such safe space. You will be constantly challenged to push yourself and move outside your comfort zone.
From working as part of a team of people who you don’t know, to doing things that you never even thought you’d try, hackathons are a great way to discover new talents, passions and skills.
Collaborate Under Pressure:
It may not sound like a selling point, but experiencing the pressure of having to come together with people you don’t know and create something entirely new in a very short space of time can be hugely rewarding. You don’t simply get a sense of achievement from completing the task — you also learn how to work efficiently, how to work as a team, and how you can put your skills to work in a quick-turn environment.
Where to find a hackathon near you?
Thanks to the Internet, there are various online resources available which you can use to find a hackathon in your city. Here’s a list:
- Major League Hacking — The Official Student Hackathon League
- Devpost — Online and In-Person hackathons.
- Hackathon.io — Platform to discover, share and manage hackathons.
- Hackalist — Hackathons from around the world
- Hack Club — For high-school hackathons.
- HackathonsNear.me — Hackathon listing
If you are a computer science student, or an upcoming developer looking for something to do this summer, a hackathon might be an alternative for you. By attending a hackathon, either physical or online, allows you to develop your coding skills, add a project to your resume, work with developers, and network with current professionals in the field of your interest. You might also win a prize, which sometimes can be in cash form. Coding challenges are another way you could use to work on your coding skills this summer. Also, you can use these challenges to prepare for technical interviews if you are searching for a job.
There you have it, what is a hackathon, why you should attend one, resources you can use to find a hackathon near you. Feel free to post in the comments other resources where to find hackathons that I have missed.
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