10 Steps on How to Conquer a Hackathon
- Apply early.
Sometimes, some of the hackathons send out acceptances in batches. If you apply just a few days before the hackathon, you may be left out. Most hackathons, especially those aimed at undergraduate and graduate students, are free to attend and many even offer travel reimbursements to help subsidize the cost of travel for participants traveling longer distances. However, there may be limited funds for travel reimbursements, so apply early to guarantee you receive one of these grants.
- Don’t be afraid.
I recently competed in my first hackathon, and I was completely scared with a major case of imposter syndrome. The key for hackathons is to just go for it without any fear, you are indeed a great asset to a team.
- Just keep pushing.
If you are at a hackathon and your project comes to a halt, just keep pushing! Part of a project is better than no project.
- Enjoy the freebies.
As stressful as hacking away at something you’re creating can be, there is a lot of cool stuff that some of the sponsors of hackathons give away, such as shirts, stickers, and occasionally, cool gadgets. Stock up!
- Enjoy the free food.
Another awesome aspect of hackathons is free food. Since you’re there for minimum of 12 hours up to 4 or 5 days (extreme cases), they provide free meals for the participants! YUM!
- Learn as much as you can.
One of the best parts about a hackathon is learning some really cool things. A lot of people who come to the events have different skill sets, expertise, and educational backgrounds. From this, you can learn anything and everything they have to offer. Some of the participants will give you links to cool libraries, tutorials and communities, some will just throw around a new buzzword, and some will even show you a cool ergonomic gadget that can improve your workflow. Last, but not least, learning some technical skills on the spot with other participants is invaluable!
Coming from a non-technical educational background, this was one of the most important and eye opening aspects for me at my first hackathon. Often, recruiters will be there, other developers, VCs, and even lawyers looking to represent the next big innovation. Finally, you can make friends for life with some of the other attendees either in your group or not.
- Go at it alone.
This, initially was one of my biggest mountains of fear to climb. I really wanted to go with some people that I knew, but if you do that, they become a crutch and you cling to them. The goal is to branch out, make new friends, and meet new people. You’ll be glad that you did.
- Embrace the experience.
Sometimes when you’re caught in the middle of a bug you can’t fix, or your team doesn’t seem to be getting along, remember that all of this is part of the experience of coming to a hackathon. You’re not the first person to feel this way and you won’t be the last. Treat it all as part of the learning experience.
- Have fun!
One of my favorite quotes from an anonymous source is “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong”. Make friends, step out of your comfort zone, enjoy the sleepless night(s), drink some caffeine, laugh when you get a bug, try to fix it, and you’ll remember the experience as a rewarding one.