Anyone who knows me will know about my love of hackathons.
If you’re not a developer, or you have simply never heard of a hack-a-thon, then let me tell you.
What is a Hackathon?
Firstly, a hackathon is not hacking. Well, not in the way I thought it would be. I had an idea that these events were loads of hackers trying to break into a company website or something over the course of the weekend. In my head it was a weekend, underground, low lights, bright screens and everyone wearing anonymous masks.
A hackathon is actually a technology based event over a period of time, typically 48 hours. Participants will work in teams to create a product or concept based on one of the several challenges which are outlined for the event.
No crime… No dim lights… No masks (unless Covid related of course).
Do we work by ourselves?
Second, you can not be a one-person band in a hackathon. It is a team sport (for the most part). The best hackathon teams are the ones which have people with a variety of backgrounds – design, code, project management to name a few. I’ve attended hackathons with anaesthesiologists and neuroscience students.
However I have witnessed teams in hackathons turn into one or two person bands. In fact, at one event, a developer walked in as a solo participant (if you don’t have a team before signing up, the event hosts will set up one for you), with their own project plan ready to go. When the team they were assigned to decided to go another route, the team splintered off into two teams (or four from the original team and a “b” team of two developers).
Unfortunately if you don’t play nice in teams you may find yourself struggling at these events.
How can I be a good team player?
Thirdly, don’t worry about needing to be loud and assertive. Teams will typically be around 6 participants so the work will be shared out. The key thing is to offer help and take part. For example, speaking up during group meetings can be intimidating but if your team has assigned a team leader then reach out to them to assign you work.
In the past I have worked with people who have just started coding – the same position I was in at my first hackathon. They have wanted to help with the code, but don’t know how much they will be able to contribute. In fact, in every event, there has been someone else on the team who has been able to offer support and mentor them. Similarly, I have seen first time project managers hone their management skills at hackathons and designers who have never had the opportunity to design outside of their own training and practice.
The key was that they reached out and offered what they could to help the team.
Do I need to stay awake the whole time?
While it is a common challenge to stay awake the entire time, and when I first started researching hackathons this was actually something a blog post described in great detail, I’ve never attended an event where they forced you to stay awake. I’m sure that would be illegal of course, but peer pressure could also play a part! The majority of hackathons I’ve attended recently were remote so there was less pressure to stay awake.
But remember, even if your team is going to stay awake, there is no rule which says you also have to. It is important to take breaks and recharge – eating, sleeping, drinking and going for a walk are all important things to factor into your day.
Is it worth the experience?
And I am so excited to hear about your experiences when you do.