I took part in many hackathons and I always had a lot of fun, but very often the announcement of results was very disappointing. I decided to share my experience and give you some tips about how to have fun during hackathons and what’s most important, how to win.
As you probably know, there are two ways to participating in a hackathon. First of all, you can sign up alone, then you’ll find a team in the place. It’s a great way to meet new friends. Don’t worry, there will be a lot of people without teams there, so you can build the new one together, or maybe some team will need your skills, then you can join to group like that.
If you are going alone, then the super useful idea is preparing a sheet of paper in A4 format, which describes your skills. E.g. you can put there text like that: “Backend developer, Java, Kotlin, Scala”, “Games Developer: Unreal Engine, Unity”, “Frontend Developer: Angular, Vue.js, Bootstrap”, it can help you find a proper team in a minute.
Of course, you can take part in a hackathon with friends and I prefer this approach. Why? For me, it’s a great way to spend time with my friends and have fun. We can talk a lot, solve problems, try new technology, teach and learn one another.
Choosing a hackathon
There is a lot of hackathons every year and you should choose the bests for you. How to do it? First of all, you should choose an event which interesting theme for you. E.g. if you like sport, you should find hackathon with tasks like best mobile application for runners or something like that. Of course, it’s not necessary, but it can give you more fun if you doing what you like.
Big vs small
I took part in either type of hackathons, the really small, like 30 attendees, or the biggest in Europe called HackYeah! Which is better? It depends…
Big hackathons’ atmosphere can make a huge impression. Thousands of people coding at the same time is really impressive, what’s more, there are a lot of attractions, like climbing wall and similar activities which you can try if you don’t have more power to code. Unfortunately, really often big events have poor Internet access, so you should be prepared and having a huge Internet package on your phone is always a good idea.
If you don’t want to have only a great time, but you also want to win (who wouldn’t want to, huh?) I can recommend the smaller events. You can think, that’s obvious because of the smaller amount of competitors, but it isn’t the only reason. In the big hackathons, the jury isn’t able to take care of every team during the event, so you will be judged when you finish your project, in five minutes, sounds unfair, huh? And it is. During the small events, the jury is able to take care of every team and talk with every attendee, you can explain your ideas and approach to the problem, you can show them progress and listen to valuable comments. It’s a big advantage of small events, and IMO it’s fair and more valuable for both sides, jury, and attendees.
Before the event, you should choose a proper topic for you, because really often on the one event, there are several topics to choose. Unfortunately, before the event beginning, topics aren’t well described, so you should be prepared for many possibilities. So e.g. if the topic is like “Event app”, you should think wide and “out of the box”. An app like that needn’t be only for event organizers or attendees, the application may be useful for speakers. Yes, I did app like that with my team and we won! I’ll describe the app later.
Tech-stack is very important as well. You should be aware of your team-mates skills. E.g. we wanted to create a mobile app, but in our team, there are three Full Stack Java/Angular, Android, and Frontend developer. So how to write a mobile app with only one developer in the team? The solution was really simple, we’ve created a “mobile-first” web app and that works like a charm!
Hackathons are a great team to learn some new technology, but I don’t recommend you use only new stuff. You will be mad and probably you won’t do anything, so I’ll recommend you chose only one new tech for your team and it would be great fun, I guarantee. E.g. in our last hackathon we decided to use Vue.js, even if none of us used it before and that was a really nice experience.
Unfortunately, even if you create the best quality code with very complicated logic there is no guarantee that you’ll win. The sad truth is that nobody checks your code and I can say more, you needn’t write a single line of code. Only idea and design matter. In fact, you have to do only graphic mocks and good presentation, that’s it, you can win. Of course when you win, then somebody may ask you about the source code, but frankly speaking, I doubt if anyone checks it out. Companies want only your ideas, the code in most cases is useless, an app must be rewritten.
Of course, the situation changes, when your task is to create an efficient algorithm, then code matters.
For me, hackathons are a great way to spend time with my friends and I really recommend you to try it, you will do it again, I guarantee.
Get friends, build a team, collect ideas and win with my tips!
You should be aware, that after 24h you will be super exhausted, so I don’t recommend going to hackathons by car and etc.. Remember about breaks, and do some gym exercises, it may help you.
In the next posts, I will describe my winning application.
I keep finger-crossed and wish you good luck!