That’s a forking controversial title if you’ve ever seen one, but hear me out. I promise this isn’t clickbait.
If you don’t know what a hackathon is or have never attended one, head here.
To start with - What even IS a hackathon?
Simply put, hackathons are 24, 36, or 48 hour-long (sometimes longer, but very rarely) technology festivals. They’re somewhere you can meet like-minded people, learn new things, and create cool technology. They can sound pretty intimidating - but you don’t have to be some genius or a coding pro to take part.
Despite the name, hackathons are not places where people gather to hack in the conventional sense of the word. Make-a-thons would be a more appropriate name, and these are basically competitions where participants (‘hackers’) hack together a minimum viable solution to a problem they see or face.
Now, I don’t mean to say you should go into a hackathon wanting to lose, just that there’s a lot more to hackathons than just winning.
There’s free food and swag.
Wait, what? That wasn’t supposed to be in the script! Editor, cut that out, please :)
Jokes apart, though, over the course of my journey participating, mentoring, judging, and organizing hackathons, I’ve come to see that aiming for the prize is fun and all, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You see, hackathons, by their very nature, attract very like-minded people, and serve as a breeding ground for innovation. And guess who wants a slice of that pie?
Hackathons can double up as recruitment drives (sometimes more overtly than others). Still, the fact remains that at every hackathon that’s being sponsored by companies that deal with tech, there are going to be representatives of said companies scouting for top talent.
All you need to do to take advantage of these is head over to voice chats/sponsor booths and build rapport with the recruiter/engineer.
Depending on what the hackathon you’re attending looks like, sometimes it might just be a better idea to forgo some features in your hack to make sure you cover all of these opportunities!
And along with this, there are tons more to do at every hackathon you attend, which you should (arguably) prioritize over just winning.
So if you shouldn’t focus on winning, what should you be doing?
This is one of the best things you could do at a hackathon. Personally, demoing in live streams at hackathons turned out to be the trigger that eventually led me to create content and speaking live in front of hundreds of people.
Not only does demoing help you figure out how to sell something you’ve worked on (which is a super underrated but important skill for a developer), it gives you the confidence to put yourself out there more often (this can work wonders in your personal life as well!). Also, it helps you polish your public speaking skills.
Focus on building something with a language/framework you’ve never used before.
This is probably the most stressful yet fun part of every hackathon - picking up something you’ve never used (or even heard of!) before, and in the short span of a day or two, turning it into something that resembles an actual product ;).
Who knows? You might find that one niche that you really love and you’re good at as well!
Learn to collaborate with teammates.
The whole point of having teammates at a hackathon is to divide work amongst them such that people get to work on stuff they’re good at, much like developer and open-source teams.
Think of them as training sessions to learn to collaborate better with other people, and you’ll work wonders! ;)
Make some new friends.
Last (but certainly not least), what’s a competition without people? If you’re at an in-person event, take trips between tables to chill with other hackers/mentors (even organizers, assuming they’re not busy putting out fires 24/7 :P).
If you’re at an online event, it’s as simple as participating in some hangouts or mini-events!
To conclude, winning cool prizes and swag can be motivating and fun, so I recommend analyzing the prize categories, prizes, and other opportunities at a hackathon before creating your strategy. A healthy balance is always a good idea; at the end of the day, make sure you’ve had fun and maybe (just maybe ;)) learned something!