What is a Hackathon?Written on January 29th, 2020 by Jonathan Tsang
A long overdue post but an interesting topic for me to write about. What is a hackathon? Why you should/shouldn’t go to them?
Hackathons have died down in popularity since 2017-2018 when they were arguably at their peak. Maybe they will make a resurgence, I’m not sure. A lot of companies have stopped sponsoring hackathons and thus made budgeting and size smaller.
What is a hackathon?
A hackathon is supposed to be an entrepreneurial and coding experience to bring to life an idea that solves a problem. Ideally good ideas are formed, teams work well, problems are solved, and the world is better off. Most of the time teams are lazy, bugs occur hampering illustrious plans, and demos are haphazardly thrown together.
Throw into the mix some prospective employers, free food and snacks, and overall it is pretty fun. Sans the lack of sleep, but that is up to the user’s discretion. Most recently I attended Nwhacks 2020 (which was my first experience flying to a hackathon).
Why you should go to a hackathon
I always tell people to attend at least one hackathon. You never know if you like something unless you try it out. You (usually) get a free bus ride to where the hackathon is, some free swag, networking opportunities with companies, and meet some people. And you also get to code/use some new frameworks. I would say there are a lot of upsides for giving up your weekend. Even if you go to one and hate it, at least you got some free stuff out of it.
I personally enjoyed meeting people from the area the hackathon was hosted at and learning from people more skilled at coding than me.
Why you should not go to a hackathon
If you don’t like hackathons don’t go. Alternatively if you are busy for that weekend with schoolwork, hackathons can be tiring and a time sink.
I found in 1st year and 2nd year I knew a lot of people that went to hackathons. As I got to 3rd year and above a lot of people stopped going to focus more on searching for jobs. Side projects do lose value as you approach upper year when work experience is more valuable on your resume.
I enjoyed my hackathon experiences a lot. A lot of people used it only to get free stuff or boost the resume, which I still recommend, but I truly did enjoy traveling around to Princeton, UPenn, Michigan, etc. for that weekend and trying to work on a cool project. Sometimes it is just looking at API prizes and catering it to companies, and sometimes it is a luck based competition, but it was a lot of fun doing it for so many years. Nwhacks 2020 is probably the last hackathon I’ll compete in, but I’d love to come back to hackathons in a mentorship role.
That being said being able to lead a team and mentor other people is also something I really enjoyed when competing. Sometimes the most technical project doesn’t win, sometimes a good demo just wins. The flashiest project may beat something much more concrete. You can try extremely hard and then lose and sometimes win when you didn’t expect it. There is a luck aspect involved and I would say don’t get too beat up if you don’t win. Keep improving and have fun at hackathons.