Comprehensive Guide on How to Get Started on your First Hackathon
Hackathons are amazing networking and learning opportunities from anyone who loves to build side projects, meet people and learn some cool new technologies. They're usually time-restricted events ranging from about 48 hours to as long as 2 months.
But what if it's your first time? What if you're an introverted who's never participated in one before?
In this article, let me share a few tips for hackathon newbies out there and how you can get the most out of a hackathon.
Author's note: This article is mainly referring to virtual online hackathons (you know why).
Where can I find hackathons?
To participate in a hackathon, you need to first find the one you want to join. There are lots of websites that features hackathons. Some companies even hold hackathons in their respective websites.
i.e. Postman hosts their Postman API Hack
If you're planning to attend a hackathon, here are some websites I frequently visit to keep a lookout, so I don't miss one that might interest me.
Devpost is my all-time favourite website to check out trending, upcoming and interesting hackathons that I could join.
On Devpost, you can find hackathon from all over the world and sign up directly on Devpost or on their official website. You can also filter hackathons based on criterias you are looking for such as:
Offline or online
Upcoming, ongoing or has ended
Categories (i.e. Healthcare, Environment, ML/AI, etc.)
This gives you plenty of choices to choose from and plan when you should allocate time to attend the hackathon you want.
Using Devpost requires you to create a Devpost account. It's great because it records every hackathon you joined on their platform. You can easily look back on your previous projects and teams.
Feel free to follow me on Devpost so you can see which hackathons I'm joining and maybe we can team up 😊
Another reason to love Devpost is that they also encourage and motivate you by having rewarding you with achievements.
Sure, these achievements are not monetary or tangible rewards but they do show you how much you progressed and celebrate with you when you win hackathons which is nice.
Oh, and there's more! Because each participant must create a Devpost account, it is easy to find other participants and build your teams before the big day.
For example, if you join a hackathon before it begins, you set your status as
Looking for teammates or you can head to the 'Participants' tab on the hackathon's page and filter participants who are
Looking for teammates.
You can easily find potential teammates by looking through the filtered profiles, checking out their interests, tech stack, etc. If you think they're a good fit, you can simply send them a message on Devpost. It's less intimidating than trying to network and find teammates on the day itself.
2. Major League Hacking (MLH)
MLH is an organization dedicate to host hackathons for students. I've been a huge fan ever since I attended my first ever hackathon by them when I was in undergrad.
You can be graduate, undergraduate, recent grad, high school or anything. Hackathons by MLH are guaranteed to be beginner-friendly, supportive and lots of fun. I miss their physical hackathons, where there would be games, sleepovers and free late-night snacks. Sorry, I digress.
They host hackathons all-year round, have a variety of beginner-friendly workshops for first-timers and fun mini-events to attend. A huge shoutout to their amazing team (from a fan).
HackerEarth is another solid choice to look for hackathons. The platform even has coding competitions, university challenges and job challenges for hiring too.
So if you're confident or just want to test your skills among many passionate people, then HackerEarth is a great platform to check out.
Even if you're not a programmer, HackerEarth has hackathons open for any fields to come and collaborate on building on an idea to solve specific problems.
4. Company Websites
As mentioned before, companies can directly host their hackathon on their website. If you're interested to network or stand out (to get hired) or just want to build something with this company's technology, then you should keep an eye on their website.
If you're targeting a specific company, you should prepare to learn and be familiar with their technology. Maybe even before the hackathon is announced, as it is almost 100% the company will ask project submissions to include at least 1 or 2 of their products.
For example, the MongoDB Hackathon by DigitalOcean will require you to use their services.
5. Hashnode/Online Community Platforms
Hashnode and other online community platforms also host hackathons. You can usually find beginner-friendly with attractive prizes on Hashnode.
This year, Hashnode is on an unbelievable hackathon streak, organizing 5 amazing ones:
Dev.to also hosts hackathons such as its Metaverse Hackathon that is ongoing since Dec 1, 2021 (ending Jan 2022).
So now you know where to find some awesome hackathons. All there's left is to choose one and you will finally attend on your first one. But before you decide to attend a hackathon, you should be clear of why you want to attend it in the first place.
Know your goals and ask yourself what do you want to get out of the hackathon:
Is it for networking?
Is it the theme that interests you?
Is it to practice some skills (i.e. programming, pitching ideas, time management)?
Is it to win some awards and recognitions?
Is it to learn something new?
Is it to build your confidence in building projects and working in a team?
No matter what your reason may be, setting clear goals and expectations for yourself will help you manage the limited time you have, allowing a less hectic process as you plan your time for the event.
Preparing Before the BIG Day
Before the hackathon starts, make sure that you are clear on these few details:
Know the time it starts (convert to your time zone if needed)
Know the deliverables for the hackathon (i.e. video, app demo, mockups, slides)
Know the requirements of the hackathon (i.e. a specific API must be used or the hosting company's product must be included)
Image from: freepik.com
Then, here are some things you can do to prepare ahead:
Build your team if the hackathon provides a list of participants you can connect with
If you have formed a team, then make sure you know how to reach them online on the day and if there are any time zone differences
If you have formed a team, have a short meeting to introduce yourself, brainstorm ideas and assign roles
Do some research on the company's technology, API or the requirements you need to know to include in the project submission
Brainstorm some ideas or solutions relevant to the hackathon's overall theme
Plan your meals if the hackathon is a short, intense one (so you don't forget to eat)
Plan ahead if there are any workshops you are interested to attend or people you want to network with, let your teammates know ahead of time
Recharge and sleep well before it begins
On the BIG day
So the hackathon finally arrives and you're excited/nervous to start building your awesome idea into reality.
Some tips to stay efficient during the hackathon:
Stay hydrated, have an app to remind you if you need
Don't overinvest too many resources on one feature. Make sure everyone is working on something to contribute
Set realistic goals. If your team encounter roadblocks, assess if it is crucial to be solved immediately or later.
Be transparent and communicate to your teammates. Let them know if you need more time to finish your part or if you have any issues.
Ensure that the project manager or leader of the team is notified if there are any sudden changes or plans to your time availability or progress
Getting ready for a hackathon takes a lot of prep work. I hope this article has been helpful to get you started for your first hackathon. Thanks for reading.
Good luck on your hackathons and cheers!
P.S. Merry Christmas to all! Thank you Mr. Unity Buddy for this GIF!