What you should learn before your first hackathon?

Apr 06, 2018

A person working at an iMac with lines of code on its screen

Hackathons are for anyone who is interested in technology. If you daydream of making an application, a website or even a toy, there is probably a hackathon out there for you. There is a misconception that you need to be a coder to attend hackathons. It’s not true. Programmers, marketers, graphic designers, project managers or any tech enthusiasts can attend. A hackathon is a great place for like-minded people to come together and implement new ideas.


What is a Hackathon?

Hackathon is a coding challenge or competition that lasts from 24-48 hours where developers and designers get together to build a digital application. They can come in different flavors. Hackathons can be industry-specific, dedicated to a theme, application-based, language-based, hardware-based or intended for a particular demographic. Even though most hackathons take place in a physical location, there are online hackathons available too. It’s a fun way to bring people together to learn and create innovation. It often results in real-world applications. According to Facebook, the Like button, Video, Chat, and even Timeline got their starts in hackathons.


Who should attend a Hackathon?

You don’t need to be a hacker to attend. Today software applications are used in every industry. Also, software products are created to resolve real-world problems. So if you are building a medical software, you might need the help of a physician. If you are building a drone solution, you might need the help of a hardware engineer or a mechanical engineer. For legal applications, a lawyer might be the best adviser.


The diversity of software applications means that there is a place for everyone in hackathons. Even though every group will need developers and designers to implement a solution, other disciplines need to be present to make it useful. So anyone interested in building a software should seek out these events.


Why attend a Hackathon?

People go to hackathons with various objectives. Here are a few:


Learning Technology

Hackathons provide opportunities to gain hands-on experience in new technology stacks or languages. The fast-paced environments work like quick tutorials. Interactions and real-world code challenges make the lessons more effective than classrooms.


Trying Out Ideas

Due to the time commitment required to develop a full-featured software, a lot of ideas never get a chance. Hackathon requires minimum viable products. It’s a great way to try out your ideas. The limited time frame allows you to boil the idea down to its essence, figure out the viability of building it and get feedback from a lot of people in the process.


Networking

Whether you are a startup looking for new talents or a person looking for a job, hackathons are great places to network. You will find enthusiastic techies everywhere.


Working with Teams

Most educational institutes are unable to provide environments where students can learn to collaborate on real projects. In a hackathon, students get an opportunity to effectively collaborate with each other. It's also a great place to make life-long friends.


Prizes and Funding

Most hackathons don't offer high cash value prizes to avoid attracting the wrong kind of people. However, the prizes are still valuable because they can work as a reputation building tool. So there are hackers who participate to win prizes like serious athletes. Also, entrepreneurs often try to use hackathons to find fundings for their ideas.


Thrills and Fun

There are hackathon addicts out there who attend the events for the adrenaline rush. Creating a product from scratch has a thrilling aspect to it. Also, the hackathon environment, with hundreds of people around, is electrifying. Some people love the thrill so much, they keep going back for more.


How to prepare for a Hackathon?

Hackathons are fun events but they are grueling too. You need to prepare yourself. So what is the one thing that you want to learn prior to the hackathon? Well, you need more than one, and here they are:


Set Up Goals

Before selecting a hackathon, consider what you want to accomplish and why. Coders trying to learn a new language might have a different objective than entrepreneurs trying to build a minimum viable product. Your goals will dictate how you want to spend your time in the event.


Research

Depending on your goals, find the right fit. If you are going to a virtual reality (VR) event, make sure you understand the technology. If you are going there to network, find out who you want to talk to. If you are looking for a job, make sure which company you are targeting.


Build a Team

You can always form a team on the day of the hackathon. But if you are serious about creating something new or winning the hackathon, you are better off with a pre-formed team. If you are attending with a bunch of friends, then you probably already know who you are going to work with. If not, most hackathons have social networking channels to help you find teammates.


Finalize Your Project

Once you have a team, it’s time to brainstorm and come up with ideas. If you are trying to implement your own idea, this is the time to sell it to your teammates. Make sure you set up the scope of the project. Also, if you are trying to win the competition, it’s always smart to incorporate the sponsor's product into the project.


Pre-Production

Hackathons require that you write the code during the event. However, you can always prepare designs and organize ideas and features of your product before the hackathon. Also, try to come up with tentative time slots for various aspects of your project. Inevitably, you will run into bugs. So you will need to change your expectations about which features to implement. If you know the must-haves beforehand, it will help you make quick decisions when you are working under pressure. You should also practice your pitch for the project as you will have to present it at the end of the event.


Physical and Mental Preparation

Hackathons are super-stimulating and tiring. You need to be well-rested before the event. Also, you need to take your laptop, computer peripheries, pillows, blankets, changes of clothes, and medicine. Generally, the event will have enough snacks. But if you have special dietary restrictions, you should make sure you have the right food with you.


In Conclusion

Hackathon is a great way to learn. If you are new to the tech industry, it looks great on your resume. It shows you are serious about your commitment. But the most important point is that these events are fun. You’ll make friends. You might meet partners to start your next entrepreneurial venture. You might find your next job. Whatever might be the end result of your product, you’ll have memories that you will cherish the rest of your life. Have fun at your first hackathon. Good luck!