A Different Approach To Hackathons

Photo by Josh Calabrese on UnsplashA Different Approach To HackathonstomerpacificBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingApr 30Hackathons are happening everywhere nowadays.

You can probably find one happening at a place near you, every other weekend.

The main purpose of a hackathon is to bring a new idea to life in a short period of time.

But it is necessary to take a step back and understand what you, as a developer, can gain from the experience.

Having participated in more than my share, and having gotten prizes in some of them, I’d like to offer my point of view on how to approach a hackathon.

⭐️ Fair warning, the statements below are my own opinion and you can take them or leave them as you see fit.

Photo by Nahuel Hawkes on UnsplashRSVPThe first thing you need to take into consideration happens before you go to the hackathon itself.

You need to decide if going to the event is worth your time and effort.

Sure, hackathons are exciting, and you will get to meet different people from various backgrounds.

Not to mention the pizza and the odd assortment of lectures.

But having said that, there is no point in wasting your weekend, doing something you don’t find interesting.

Yes, you cannot predict the future and clearly ascertain the event will be a dud, but you can gauge the likelihood of connecting to the event way beforehand.

Ask yourself the following questions when considering going to a hackathon:Is the theme of the hackathon something that is relevant to me?Is my current skill set compatible with any of the projects?Do I really want to code all weekend after I have done so all week?Answering even one of these questions with a no can be a red flag.

It’ll let you know you need to pass up on the upcoming event.

Photo by Kari Shea on UnsplashBenefitsWe are all looking to advance ourselves outside of hackathons, but that also applies heavily to hackathons themselves.

Whether it be to expand our network of colleagues, or to add another line to our resume.

No one just goes to a hackathon for the free food.

It is important to think beforehand what you want to get out of a hackathon.

Depending on the current status of your career, that could mean a variety of things.

You may want to go to a hackathon to improve your coding skill at a particular language.

Another reason could be, because you want to meet people from a certain industry you might want to shift into.

Go with your goals in mind.

That way, you will have the best chance of achieving what you want out of the event.

Don’t be afraid to focus on one thing.

If all you want to get out of a hackathon is to meet new people, do that.

You don’t have to cross all the checkboxes all the time.

Photo by Tucker Good on UnsplashGet Out Of Your Comfort ZoneIf you aren’t going to hackathons to challenge yourself, don’t bother going at all.

There is no point in spending a Saturday of writing code that probably won’t get used, if you are not being challenged by the whole experience.

Like I mentioned earlier, pick at least one area where you would like to see yourself improve.

You might want to try public speaking (or overcome your fear of it) by presenting the project your team was working on.

You could work on a certain concept of code that you have been struggling to understand.

Choose something that will keep you motivated throughout the event.

As most hackathons go, after the initial rush of the beginning, enthusiasm wears off pretty quickly and it can be hard to stay focused.

Giving yourself a reason to keep at it will benefit you throughout the event.

Mock ItThere comes a point in a hackathon where you either know you are going to have something worth presenting or that you don’t have enough time to finish all that you set out to do.

It is crucial at this point to stop everything and choose what version of the project you prefer to present:You can opt out of presenting the project (but why would you?)You can show the project as is and do some elaborate explaining during the presentationYou can make believeThe first two options are of course there to dissuade you from choosing them, as they do not allow you to fulfill the hackathon’s goal.

The third option means that you can show off your project, but you can simulate parts of the logic that you have not had time to complete.

This is known as a mock and you can use this to your advantage.

All you have to do is create nice looking pages with preset logic that will show the audience how you envision the project.

In the end, what people will be most impressed by is the look and feel of your project and not the technology that is behind it.

A word about company hackathonsIf you work in a large enough company, chances are there will be at least one hackathon event per year.

This will involve the entire company, crossing divisions and trying to come up with solutions to the company’s biggest problems.

I am all for participating in such events if you want to work with other colleagues from different teams or you want to broaden your work friends circle.

What I am not so psyched about is the fact that you are required to participate in an event that for all intents and purposes is to manufacture features you are supposed to work on in your day to day job.

I understand the company’s point of view, but let’s not call it a hackathon.

Let’s call it by what it really is – an organized effort to shorten production time of features the company really wants to make.

Photo by Scott Webb on UnsplashDon’t ForgetI know that it may seem like I come across as a bit biased towards hackathons.

But from my point of view, there needs to be a balance between the different aspects of an event like this.

Having spent my fair share at several, I am now wiser when choosing a hackathon to go to, and I hope after reading this article that you are too.

And even though I haven’t mentioned it yet, make sure to just have fun.

Nothing has to be as complicated as it seems.

At the bottom of it, we all just want to hang out and do something we are all passionate about, which is to code.

So get out there and enjoy yourselves.


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