4 ways to succeed at a hackathon - Technical.ly Baltimore

Software Development

Mar. 21, 2019 2:36 pm

4 ways to succeed at a hackathon

It goes beyond winning a prize. Here’s a look at how to get the most out of a weekend.
Inside GiveBackHack Baltimore.

Inside GiveBackHack Baltimore.

(Photo via Twitter)

This is a guest post by Merlin Patterson (they/them).

Hackathons, like the upcoming Baltimore Hackathon, offer a chance to build ideas in a short time period.

Typically taking place in a shared space such as a coworking space, a college hall or a makerspace, participants can build with a team or as an individual, creating software or hardware. Projects can be anything from a game about the importance of mental health to a robot that handles your recycling. The possibilities are limitless. Some hackathons have specific goals, like the recent GiveBackHack, where participants built and tested social impact ideas. Other hackathons are more open ended, where you can build anything you want. At the end of the weekend, pitch your idea to judges. Many of these events have a chance to win prizes, but winning is not the only marker of a successful weekend. Here are four ways to make participation worthwhile, during the weekend and beyond.

Help others

Hackathons are a competition, but you do not have to act competitive. Instead of focusing solely on your own project, take the time to get to know the other participants and see if there is any way you can help them. If you have experience, help those who are new learn something: a command, a concept, or how to debug. Your experienced help may be the difference between giving up, or encouraging them to pursue their idea or a career in the field. If you are new, assist others who are new by trying to learn something together. Two minds are better than one. Support does not have to be limited to code. Offering to get food or drink, cleaning up or helping with the final presentation are other great ways you can provide help. Regardless of the how, your assistance will be appreciated.

Advance your career

These 48-hour sprints are filled with people from different areas in life. You will find the roles of engineer, business development, user experience design, and more. You will find varying levels of experience from people who have never been in the tech sector before to people who have been coding 10 years. You will find different industries from agriculture to zoology. Connect with the other participants, the organizers, the volunteers and the sponsors. You might find a new job, you might find a new career or you might find a mentor.


Challenge yourself

Hackathons are about learning. If you are a beginner, join a team and ask them to teach you. Or find a mentor that can help guide you on a project you wish to build. If you prefer the solo route, find a tutorial online and build it, while making it your own. If you are experienced, try out a new language, switch platforms, or learn a new concept. Let someone else code while you learn design skills. No hackathon project is going to be perfect. Focus on improving yourself instead of perfecting your project.

Keep going with your idea

When the hackathon ends, continue with your idea, regardless of whether your project won or not. A winning idea means that it met the judging criteria best. It does not mean other ideas are invalid. Build it for yourself or for others. Validate your idea with user testing. Improve the design. Open source it so others can contribute. Turn it into a company or a hobby project. Persistence is key.


Winning a prize at a hackathon is wonderful, but it is not the sole measurement of achievement. If you are on the fence about attending because you think you might not win, especially if you are worried that you are too new, then sign up anyway. As you have seen, there are other benefits to joining a hackathon. The key to a hackathon is knowing how to HACK.


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