I’ve noticed that there’s a lack of knowledge about hackathons, which I believe to be an amazing way of building new products and learning by doing. So, to spread the word, I've decided to write an article about them. You will get a deeper knowledge about what a hackathon is, the benefits of attending, and a few tips that will help you optimize your next hackathon.
What Is a Hackathon?
The word hackathon comes from the words "marathon," as in a long or difficult activity in a short period, and "hack," here referring to exploratory programming.
During a hackathon, you spend a short period of time — usually between 24 to 48 hours, but up to a week — building, creating, and delivering a product. The idea is to collaboratively code in an extreme manner, to start from scratch and end with a working prototype. It’s often a sort of competition where teams of programmers, developers, designers, and project managers come together to design and build a nice a software product.
Originally, it started in the open-source community, but today, it is very common among programmers. You can find all sorts of hackathons. Some are mainly intended for educational matters, other for social, and others are basically to create a software. Very often, businesses use hackathons as a chance to get creative ideas from their employees, to get some sort of prototype that will be low-cost at the end of the day.
During these events, people meet up to face different real life problems. Some hackathons have a theme assigned, while others have no themes and you must pitch ideas and build on them. It’s a great opportunity to put together a large number of people to address the same problem and watch how ideas and results flow.
What is the Structure of a Hackathon?
It usually all starts with an introduction to the event (about the topic if there is one). Then, there's a kickoff where the participants will pitch product ideas and form teams based on interests and specific skills.
As mentioned earlier, a hackathon can be as short as 24 hours or go up to a week. Of course, for shorter hackathons, there is more pressure. It's similar to exam week in college. Work, work, work, drink coffee, have a quick bite, drink some Red Bull, sleep very few hours, work more, etc. (At least that’s what my exam week looked like!)
After the work being done, teams will show their product to others. It’s not always the case, but quite often, you will have a jury that will be looking at the demos of products who will be in charge of choosing a winner team that will get a prize.
What Are the Benefits of Hackathons?
Still not 100% convinced that you should participate in a Hackathon? Wait until you read about the benefits.
Meet New People
Hackathons are a great opportunity to get to know others who have the same interests as you and who care about the same technologies. Basically, it’s a place where you get the chance to work and collaborate on projects with like-minded people. I won’t go over the benefits of making new connections and networking, but a hackathon is definitely the right place for that.
You are put in a situation where you work intensely with new people who you meet for many consecutive hours in a short period of time, making it all quite intense. Everyone is working towards the same goal. You very often create strong bonds, learn from other’s strengths, and learn how to work with a team who you don’t already know and with whom you’ve never worked before, where high communication skills will be key.
Add Value to Your CV
This is a great addition to your CV: You will be getting some real tech experience and you can win awards. People in the field know that during a Hackathon, you increase your knowledge and gain teamwork experience. It shows a lot about your personality, as proof that you are a person who takes initiative, seeks to gain deeper knowledge, and enjoys challenges.
Problem-solving environments encourage the development of new ideas. You work with people that come from different fields, with different ideas and interests, all working together to solve the same problem, each one adding his own input. The fact that we are restricted with time increases adrenaline and makes it much more productive.
If you host the event in your offices, people with talent in the industry will get to know your company and will meet your employees, making it possible for them to see how your team works and the skills they have.
Recruit and Find Talent
During the project, you can think about testing candidates and identifying new talent for your teams. Do you see any cultural fit? This is something you don’t always get to see during a job interview. Here, you can really see how people work in action, how they manage a situation, how fast they are, how productive, etc. It’s a very efficient way to find talent.
Create a New Product
The main idea is to solve a problem by building a product. You can end up with a prototype of what could be your next brand new product! If not, you at least know what worked out and what didn’t.
You’re having fun building new things, and the feeling is quite rewarding. You gain the respect of others for the job that is done and you participate in the advancement of technology.
By now, you should be convinced to try out a hackathon. At the very least, you should understand why it can be really interesting for some.