A few years ago, a good friend of mine kept pushing me to register for something called a “hackathon” - an event that combines designers, developers and other domain experts with the goal of creating and building something, from nothing, within 24 to 36 hours and present the final product to a judging panel.
Sounds cool right…?
Many of you might be hesitant to register, not knowing what to expect or feel like you lack the skills and knowledge required to attend this type of event. I’m here to reassure you and tell you that anyone willing to put in a little work and effort will be able to participate in any hackathon.
In this post, I will guide you through the necessary steps I took to receive that first acceptance letter and discuss some tips I would give myself if I were doing this for the first time again.
Don’t be discouraged by rejection
In my first-year in software engineering, I applied to various hackathons and was constantly rejected while most my friends got in. It crushed me. I promised myself that the next time I apply to any hackathon, I was going to be accepted.
“The next year, I applied again and was finally accepted to both Hack the North and HackHarvard.”
How did I go from multiple rejections to two acceptances in a year?
I began taking online courses to grow my dev stack beyond the scope of school. For that, I would highly recommend FreeCodeCamp because its free and offers the opportunity to build real projects that you can showcase on your GitHub or CodePen. For a more traditional approach to online classes, I would recommend Udemy, Udacity or Coursera in that order.
I will not go into which languages, frameworks or stacks you should choose and learn, but I can definitely recommend that, after careful review and consideration on your behalf, pick one and stick with it.
Go once and you’re hooked
After attending Hack the North, I was hooked. It was one of the most fun and productive weekends of my life! It was truly a remarkable experience; from meeting like-minded individuals to attending workshops and talks with industry leaders, to the variety of sponsors, swag, food: it was mind-blowing!
It was clear to me; I needed to attend more hackathons. I made it a goal to participate in 1-2 hackathons every six months. I attended HackHarvard shortly after and will be participating in ConUHacks at the end of the month.
Once the registration process is over with, and you got your acceptance letter, it’s time to join the community. Introducing yourself and joining the groups created by the organizers will be an excellent opportunity for you to get involved with fellow hackers, familiarize yourself with the sponsors and explore the API’s that you might want to use to impress the judges, but I’ll get into that a little later in the post.
Also, you might want to make your travel arrangments as soon as possible. Major hackathons offer transport reimbursements or provide some kind of transportation to the event. In any case, ensure that you have that taken care of so you can focus on joining or building a team and start conceptualizing the idea you may want to pursue.
Pay attention to the theme and sponsors
Pair or create a team early this way you can start getting to know each other before the event. If you are attending solo (like I did), you want to join the slack, facebook or any form of group created for the event. Use this opportunity to showcase yourself, your skills and interests. Make sure to link your personal website and GitHub in the groups. Most importantly demonstrate the initiative to join an existing team, or advertise that you are recruiting for your own team.
Once you have a crew, its time to brainstorm. Here’s something I would recommend: if you want to have the chance to win, pay close attention to the top sponsors of the hackathon.
Why? Usually, the top sponsors sit on the judging panel. They put in a lot of effort and resources to make the event possible. To impress them, try to find a creative hack that incorporates their product. It could also be something related to their domain or industry.
24 or 36 hours later…
Why should you attend and complete a hackathon?
“Pain is temporary, glory is forever.”
Besides the lack of sleep, you will leave the hackthon with the following:
Network — you will make new friends, and you will meet a multitude of people during that weekend. You will meet industry leaders and experts in your field. Get the chance to know them; introduce yourself don’t be shy, everyone is there for that same reason.
Project — once you’re done, all that hard work you put in will be worth it! You can showcase that project on your CV, GitHub or LinkedIn. You have something to talk about in your next job interview, with your friends and/or work colleagues.
Confidence — whether you win or not, remember that you didn’t stop learning, that you might have attended the hackathon with no prior knowledge of a particular technology and managed to develop an impressive project with your team! I bet you’ll feel much more confident for your next hackathon.
Experience — take advantage of the fact that you are a student; attend as many hackathons as you can. It will provide you with a different, refreshing kind of work experience that you will not get from anywhere else.
Go on, your turn!
Did any of these tips help? Let me know how your first hackathon went?!
Feel free to let me know if I missed anything. If you’d like me to elaborate on anything else or if you have any other questions, please leave them in the comment section below.
Best of luck