July 1, 2022

Hackathon Essentials: How Do Hackathons Work?


Do you want to participate in a hackathon but don't know where to start? How to join, what you need to know, how to prepare, and all other questions that might be going through your head will be answered here.

So what are hackathons?

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.

Since speed is of utmost importance and the majority of the time will be spent developing your solution - the best thing you can do in advance is to choose the most productive development technology.

Low-code technology is currently the best option for hackathons because it gives you 3X higher development speed after only 1-2 days of learning.

Low code is just an extension of existing technologies like JavaScript, MySQL, GraphQL, and AWS, so there are very few new things to learn. But it provides you with a much more productive utilization of these technologies.

In short, anyone participating in the hackathon will be seriously disadvantaged if they're not using low code.

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. Perhaps it is precisely your idea, insight, industry knowledge, or aha-moment that tilts the scale toward your team winning the hackathon.

So definitely do it at least once in your lifetime. Plus, it's so much fun!

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! For example, you will likely have 36 hours 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 and 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

Since the hackathon duration is extremely limited, no one assumes the result will be perfect. And this 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 are able to create things you didn't think were possible before. This gives you more confidence in your abilities, and it's also a valuable experience because you can put a hackathon on your resume.

How To Do A Hackathon?

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 better understand what you can expect.

Hackathon Opening Ceremony

You'll have to complete 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. There are times that the competition is more open-ended, but you will still 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 industry 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 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 Coding Speed

However, software development is the slowest part and the biggest bottleneck in this entire process. Every team that competes has this problem. But you don't have to…

And if you could get your ideas to life 3X faster, you would have a major competitive advantage. Especially if you don't have to learn some exotic new technology.

Instead, you just use existing technologies (JS, MySQL, GraphQL, AWS) in a slightly new way. All you need is 1-2 days of learning, and just like that, a 3X increase in productivity is achieved.

Low-code technology lets you do just that and blow away your hackathon competition. It almost gives you the ability to time travel.

If you can develop things 3X faster, then the two days you were given will feel like six. Imagine everyone else competing at a hackathon being given two days, and only you were given six days.

If that doesn't sound like an unfair advantage and a reason to try low code, then nothing does.

Hacking A Minimum Viable Product

Nearly every product consists of two parts - frontend and backend. And both of those can be easily built at record speed.

Low-code IDE is accessible through the browser, and no installation is required. Plus, your project is accessible through any computer.

Backend building boils down to defining the data model by creating database tables, and you're done. All the necessary API endpoints are created for you (together with filtering and pagination).

And everything is live and ready to use.

Low-code backend implements GraphQL by default, allowing the frontend to request any combination of resources from the backend without modifying the backend. This also provides a development speed increase over traditional REST API.

Frontend building is also extremely fast and intuitive. Customizable drag-and-drop components allow you to quickly build user interfaces and provide the best of both worlds.

You can quickly build something up just to have the first version up and running. But after that, you have full control over each component's look, feel, and behavior.

In essence, the development speed you get through low-code technology comes without any compromise.

Production-Ready Product

From everything you've read so far, you might get the impression that building so fast probably makes low code just a cool templating tool unsuitable for production.

But this couldn't be further from the truth.

Building your project with low-code technology makes it automatically scalable from one to a million users (and beyond). And this is all possible without any changes to your codebase.

Also, no DevOps team is required - everything just works.

Hackathon Presentation And 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.

Coding Hackathon Ideas

Remember that part at the beginning where it said anyone can participate regardless of skill level? Well, this is why.

Best ideas come from experience. And just because people cannot code doesn't mean they cannot become the most important part of the team.

When you work in a certain industry for some time, you begin to notice things. You see what works well and what doesn't. You hear the complaints from current users and customers.

In the end, the best ideas may not be ideas at all. They are the same complaints and problems you're hearing over and over again. There is no guessing involved. You simply know what will be a good product.

This is why the best hackathon idea is to get at least one person on your team who has industry knowledge and experience.

Knowing how to build is great, but knowing what to build is excellent.

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 point about competitive advantage was not just empty words. Have an end in mind. Bring something with you to a hackathon event that is universally beneficial for success. For example, if you could take 200 IQ instead of 100 IQ, that would be universally beneficial.

Unfortunately, you can't double your IQ overnight. But you can triple your coding speed at hackathons if you use low-code technology.

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

Now go out, apply for your next hackathon, and amaze everyone with your new project.

To Sum It Up

The most time-consuming part of any hackathon is the development part. Being able to develop your app 3X more productively than others would feel like a superpower.

Low-code technology offers precisely that - a 3X more productivity after only about 1-2 days of learning. If there ever was a hack on how to win hackathons - you just found it.

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