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What do employers think about hackathons in general? And will this experience help you in landing your next job?
Putting hackathons in your resume is better than having nothing or only your degree. It's also better than just listing a side project you built. But a hackathon is not better than working in a real company for a few years.
Here is the list of things employers want to see in a resume, from the least to the most preferable:
The main question beyond the resume itself is: what do employers fundamentally want?
Ideally, they want you to become a productive contributor quickly. But that isn't easy since your onboarding takes time. So they look for signals in your resume that show you are capable of doing the job and eager to learn.
The easiest way to reduce that time is to find someone with similar working conditions to the employer's current project. And for that reason, hackathons are very good. But they can never beat real-world experiences such as:
Hackathons are places where real growth and personal development can happen. No book, course, or seminar can help you learn and advance as fast as the hands-on experience in hackathons. What's best, your creativity will explode.
Hackathons also expand your horizons. You learn to try and do things you wouldn't do in your regular job. And they can teach you valuable skills about entrepreneurship.
In a hackathon, it is not enough to code something fast, and that's it; ticket closed, done. No! You must consider what you are building and what's essential in the end product. The question becomes more than "how to build a feature best?" It transforms into "should we build this feature at all?"
This mind shift benefits programmers who tend to get lost between the lines of code. And sometimes, they lose sight of the big picture. Code is not an end unto itself. The product needs to fill a purpose in the user's life.
And because of that, hackathons make the entire team aware of the market, the user, the sales process, and technical limitations. And all these skills are directly transferable to actual companies and real projects where you work as a part of your job.
All of this makes you more valuable to the project and the company where you work. And in the end, the career opportunities you'll get (promotions, better and more extensive projects, higher salary, etc.) are directly proportional to the value you provide.
Hackathons are a place where you can also learn to do many things wrong; if you're not very careful:
If there is one word that perfectly describes a hackathon, it would be: unsustainable.
Hackathons have a place and purpose, but they also have expiration dates. Every decision gets made looking through a short-term lens. So if you plan to use hackathons as your primary learning tool in software development - you might want to think again.
You will all end up learning the wrong tech skills and developing bad coding habits.
The conclusion is: learn from hackathons but use them with moderation.
If you are early in your career, having hackathon experience is a great way to learn and develop your skills. But as your career matures, you will have diminishing returns, and your time will get better spent elsewhere.
And if you want to know more about the inner workings of a hackathon, then you should read the hackathon essentials article for more info.
One of the things you learn from hackathons is speed and productivity. And those are the things that directly affect your career and salary. Another thing is developing creativity under time pressure, which is insanely valuable.
And people who master those skills will have endless career opportunities.
For example, programmers who never attended a hackathon will likely do things the slow way. If they need to build an app, they will code frontend (web or mobile app) and backend (database) without having a second thought.
That is slow, inefficient, and unproductive.
Programmers who attended hackathons will realize there are production-grade database building tools. And with them, building and publishing scalable databases takes only minutes instead of hours.
One such tool is 8base where you create database tables in a couple of clicks. It's immediately live, and all you need to do is focus on coding the front end. Then the backend endpoints are automatically generated for you.
We don't know about the mythical 10x Developer, but this makes you a 2x developer overnight.
Hackathons are one of the best ways for companies to attract new talent and ideas. With very low risk, a company can assess a person's competency. And in-house hackathons can produce marketable products quickly and cheaply.
The best example of a successful in-house hackathon was conducted by a company named Odeo. You've probably never heard about it because it was a failing company.
Their big plan to save themselves from bankruptcy? An in-house hackathon! The result of this hackathon? A simple micro-blogging app you might have heard about: Twitter :)
As you can see, there are over a billion reasons why a company would want to do a hackathon. Now the obvious question you might want to know is how to win hackathons?