New to the hackathon space or returning after some time away? Curious what the landscape looks like and how to feel successful at your next event? We’ve got you covered! Hackathons can, at times, feel overwhelming, so here are a few tips to make the experience as smooth as possible.
Do your research
You’ve probably already heard the general tips “get some sleep” and “pack accordingly”, but preparation can go a little further than that. Look over the agenda and have a plan ready for when you get there. Research who's going to be there, find out the sponsors, and make some talking points. Hackathon organizers usually break down the event hour-by-hour on site, so make sure you know what to expect before you arrive.
Check out the developer portals and APIs that will be presented at the hackathon and thoroughly read through the documentation to make sure you’re fully prepared. Attending workshops and webinars can be helpful while preparing for your first hackathon. You may even find it useful to brush up on some developer or UX design knowledge that’s normally outside of your wheelhouse.
Think about joining a team
If you have a team ready before the hackathon, figure out who's doing what ahead of time. If you’re joining a team at the event or working by yourself, try to deduce what needs to be done as quickly as possible so you have ample time for coding. If you want to join a team before the event but aren’t sure how, use platforms such as Slack to start talking to others who are attending as well.
Brainstorm your ideas
Brainstorm using the theme but also keep in mind the “Fresh Code” rule. Do your own research using online resources to learn some tips for building a great solution. All coding has to be created for the first time at the event, however, this doesn’t mean you can’t get think of some ideas for your solution. Research the challenges if there are multiple to figure out which makes the most sense for your skills.
Practice for your demo
Practice your presentation and pitch skills beforehand. There are a ton of online resources (both videos & articles) you can use to help you prepare. It’s completely normal to get anxious before presenting your solution to the judges, but remember that most people get nervous. Don’t let those nerves get the best of you. Start your presentation with a quick backstory, why your solution is an answer to the challenge, and then your demo. If you’re passionate about your project and articulate it well enough to get that across, it’ll go a long way with the judges.
Instead of jumping right into coding, take a few minutes for in-depth ideation to help create your solution. Don’t overwork yourself and keep your goals achievable. Understand what you can accomplish within the allotted time. Be realistic with your solution and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Your first hackathon doesn’t have to be just for the win. Walking out with a good experience can be just as satisfying. Whether you bring home a prize or not, keeping a good attitude can assure that you leave your first hackathon feeling accomplished.
Keep your energy up while keeping yourself healthy (don’t overdo it with the energy drinks!). Take a step back, relax, and try to have a plan ready for any roadblocks. If you need a quick nap or just several minutes to close your eyes and turn off your brain, do it! Letting your batteries recharge can only help you when it comes to executing your plan. Find a quiet and relaxing space at the event (or even leave for a little if that’ll help you clear your head) and just remember why you’re here in the first place.
Use your team and mentors for support, and don’t be afraid to take advantage of the resources available to you!
Appreciate the experience
Lastly (and most importantly), take the opportunity to learn some new skills even if your solution doesn’t take home the top prize. Network with recruiters, developers, and fellow innovators. Sometimes sponsors go to hackathons looking to recruit - use this to your advantage. Even after the hackathon's over, try to stay engaged with the people you met and the ideas you enjoyed. Keep in touch with your teammates if you worked well together, and maybe team back up in the future. Take notes on the things that impressed you to use as inspiration. Fresh off this hack, you should use the momentum to sign up for your next one.
Advance your abilities, meet new people, and enjoy the overall experience. After all, this may be your first hackathon but hopefully won’t be your last.