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July 1, 2022

Hackathon Essentials: How Do Hackathons Work?


So you want to participate in a hackathon but don't know where to start? You will find all the information you need to start your hackathon journey here.

A Hackathon is a competitive event where small groups of 2-5 people can showcase their skills and speed. The skills required are not just limited to coding. Design, marketing, and presenting also help a lot.

It is important to note that participants of all skill levels are welcome to join. Even if you feel like you might not be able to contribute much. Maybe precisely your idea, insight, or aha-moment tilts the scale towards your team winning the hackathon. So definitely do it at least once in your lifetime.

How Long Are Hackathons?

Hackathons can last anywhere from 12-72h. No matter how long they are, time will pass in a flash as time flies while you're having fun! You will likely have 36 hours, for example, from Saturday morning to Sunday evening.

When surrounded by people excited to bring a new idea to life, you will be in a constant state of flow. Even while running on little to no sleep, hours will seem like minutes. You may think you're going to be tired, but that will be the last thing on your mind.

What Is The Purpose Of Hackathons?

The primary purposes of hackathons are:

  • testing new technologies
  • sharpening your skills
  • developing a business & user-centric mindset
  • getting noticed by other companies
  • quality networking for everyone involved
  • building products you wouldn't build otherwise
  • immersing yourself in creative thinking
  • opportunity to get noticed and perhaps hired
  • getting the experience, you can add to your resume
  • making new friends
  • have fun

Because time limitation assumes the result won't be perfect, it gives participants the freedom to try new things imperfectly. But most importantly, it is an opportunity to grow for everyone involved.

And often, the results are amazingly creative.

You might also want to know: are hackathons good for resume?

How Does A Hackathon Work?

A typical hackathon will start on Friday afternoon. The event theme gets presented, and teams get formed. Coding work usually runs from Saturday morning to Sunday evening. Then come presentations and the declaration of winners.

But let's expand on each of the steps, so you can get a deeper understanding of what you can expect.

Hackathon Opening Ceremony

You'll have to go through initial registration when you arrive at the venue (in-person or virtual) on Friday afternoon. Usually, you already registered beforehand online, so this will be just checking in.

Then the official part of the hackathon will start. There will be presentations and an introduction to the hackathon theme. Sometimes the competition is more open-ended, but you will generally get some direction.

After the hackathon's presentations and general rules, you'll talk to other people and form teams. The teams are not just coders. Designers and marketers are essential for your product's success. And don't forget that people with domain knowledge are often the heart of your team. Because otherwise, you may not have enough insight to know what to build, or you'll be working on the wrong thing.

The Main Hackathon Event

From Saturday morning to Sunday evening is the main hackathon event. Here you will finalize your product idea in discussion with your teammates and start building.

This is the most exciting part of the entire hackathon, where you have a continuous loop between ideas, building, and feedback. This is where developers, designers, marketers, and domain experts share their best ideas and knowledge to iterate through the product quickly.

No wonder time flies like crazy.

Hackathon Closing Ceremony

Sunday evening is the main event where all the work, ideas, and products get presented. So, preparing your team's pitch/presentation on Sunday morning is essential. If you came up with a good idea, followed up by a working product, and finished up with a stunning presentation, you might even win some prizes.

Whatever happens, Sunday evening is usually dinner and hangout time where you get to party and relax after all this hard work.

What Happens At Hackathons?

The slowest part of the entire hackathon is the coding part, so you want to speed this part up as much as possible. You effectively have 36 hours to build something good. And there is a tool that can cut your dev time in half.

Because almost every project you're going to work on will consist of a frontend (mobile or web app) and the backend (database). It's recommended that you find tools to accelerate the development of these respective parts.

The 8base Backend can help you set up an entire application backend in just a few clicks. As you create database tables, it automatically creates a GraphQL API for you. And all of this takes only a couple of minutes.

It is automatically live and ready to use. And on top of that, it's production-ready out of the box. This means you can continue to build and grow your project even after the hackathon ends without having to start again and rewrite it from scratch.

Now, your team must focus on building the frontend part (mobile or web app). And this will give you an advantage over the other teams because you can build twice as much in the same amount of time.

Hackathon Essentials

In conclusion, don't overcomplicate things (they are called essentials for a reason):

  • phone + charger
  • laptop + charger
  • hoodie or something warm (even if it's summer)
  • competitive advantage

Now the last part was not just empty words. Have an end in mind. Take something that is universally beneficial for success. For example, if you could take 200 IQ instead of 100 IQ, that would be universally beneficial.

You can't double your IQ. But you can double your coding speed at hackathons. And this is possible through 8base Backend, which lets you handle the database part of the hackathon in minutes instead of hours.

I'd say that is a pretty good competitive advantage. Also, here is an in-depth article on how to prepare for hackathon that gets into much more detail on what you need to do.

Now go out, apply for your next hackathon, and we wish you the best of luck :)

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