Hackathon Survival Guide

If you’re already into the tech scene, then chances are you already know what a hackathon is. However, if you haven’t, the definition of a hackathon is as follows: it is, “a social coding event that brings computer programmers and other interested people together to improve upon or build a new software program.” Hackathons are great for improving your coding skills, learning more about technology, and coming up with ideas that can garner the attention of major businesses. GroupMe is one example of a hackathon idea turned multimillion-dollar acquisition. The prototype, which was created at TechCrunch Hackday, did not win any prizes but it did become successful later on. It was the experience of going that provided the creators with the inspiration needed to conceive the idea of GroupMe. Their success is one of the many reasons you should consider attending a hackathon. If you’ve never attended a hackathon, here are the top 17 tips for surviving your first one.

17 Tips for Surviving Your First Hackathon

1. ARRIVE EARLY

Person Jumping

The best thing you can do for yourself when attending a hackathon is to arrive early. If you’re attending a hackathon that’s a good distance away plan ahead and give yourself enough time to get there. For the most part, hackathons have many participants, all of whom are trying to arrive around the same time as you. Take this into account when planning your departure time and you should be good to go.

2. BE OPEN

Man Opening DoorsIf you decide to work in a team for the hackathon, being open-minded is crucial. There is nothing worse than working with someone who has no interest in understanding your point of view. Teams are a collaborative effort and in order to succeed, you must be willing to compromise.

3. BRAINSTORM BEFORE YOU GET THERE

Person Confused

If you’re given the project before the hackathon even starts, do your research and brainstorm. This saves you the trouble of having to desperately think of an idea on the spot. Instead, you get to focus on successfully implementing that idea in a timely manner.

4. THERE ARE USUALLY PRIZES

Although the experience of going to a hackathon should be enough encouragement to go on its own, it’s also good to remember that there are usually monetary prizes. If not, companies sponsoring the event tend to give away their own products as prizes. For example, at Technica in 2019, VR headsets and Google Home Minis were offered as incentives.

5. BRUSH UP ON CODING SKILLS

Cat Typing Really FastGetting some practice in beforehand is essential for keeping your coding skills sharp. Whether that be Java, C++, HTML, or CSS. Practice whatever language needed to implement your project successfully. Websites like Codecademy and Udemy are perfect for reviewing how to program.

6. MENTORS ARE AVAILABLE

There are usually mentors available to assist you, whether that be helping you fully understand the project or answering any coding related questions you may have. Mentors are volunteers who want to help you so please don’t be afraid to ask them questions.

7. TAKE LOTS OF BREAKS

Spongebob Taking A BreakPlease do not stress yourself out to the point of exhaustion. It’s nearly impossible to put out good work when your brain is fried, or your body is tired. That’s why you should take as many breaks needed to refresh your mind and body for the competition.

8. EXPECT COMMUNITY GAMES

Community games are held for participants to get to know each other and relax in between working. These are a great way to make new friends and have fun so if possible, you should consider taking advantage of them.

9. KNOW HOW LONG THE HACKATHON LASTS

Lady Pointing To Her WristThere are many different types of hackathons. Some last 24 hours, 36 hours, and even 48 hours. Know how long yours is and prepare accordingly. If it’s your first time going to a hackathon maybe a 24 hour one might be a good place to start. However, if you’re feeling ambitious maybe a longer hackathon is perfect for you.

10. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WORKSHOPS

Take advantage of the workshops that hackathons have to offer. More often than not, they provide beneficial information that can help with your current project in addition to your future ones.

11. THEY HAVE SLEEPING SPACES FOR STUDENTS

Animated Cat Yawning

Although sleeping spaces are usually provided, be sure to bring an air mattress and/or sleeping bag as necessary. Although some hackathons do provide air mattresses, don’t be surprised if there aren’t enough or if the ones they provide aren’t the best quality.

12. DO RESEARCH ON SPONSORS

Woman Holding Phone

Check to see if any of the sponsors for the hackathon are companies that you might be interested in working for. Some sponsors actually have internships or job opportunities available. Because of this, going to a hackathon puts you at a far greater advantage than most people who are also interested in those companies. It’s also a good idea for you to bring a few copies of your resume. Doing so shows those companies that you’re serious about working for them.

13. CHECK OUT DEMOS

At the end of a hackathon, there is usually a demo session of all the projects. Use this as an opportunity to look at what everyone else has made. Demo sessions are not only for company representatives. Participants are encouraged to look at projects aside from their own for innovative inspiration.

14. MOST HACKATHONS ARE FREE

Girl SpeakingAlthough most hackathons are free of charge, there are a few that may require a fee. This is rare but double-check that it’s free to be sure.

15. TRANSPORTATION MAY BE PROVIDED

Some hackathons do provide transportation. This could mean that they provide their own OR they refund your travel expenses. The refund process is that you have to pay your traveling fees at first, and then afterward they will refund you. Because of this, it is important that you hold onto all your traveling receipts so that they know exactly how much to refund you.

16. PACK LOTS OF SNACKS

Patrick Eating A Lot Of PattiesWhether you have any dietary restrictions or not, pack as many snacks as you can. Hackathons usually provide food for participants, however, if late-night cravings are a common occurrence for you or you simply cannot eat the food they have to offer, then it’s probably best that you bring your own snacks.

17. IT’S OKAY NOT TO KNOW A LOT OF CODE

Elmo Shrugging

If you have a brilliant idea but don’t how to create it, making a presentation is also acceptable. Making a visual presentation allows you to convey the idea you’ve come up with without the pressure of having the full code prepared. Even if you don’t have any code at all, presenting a few slides is better than presenting nothing at all.

For this article I’d like to thank Seidenberg senior, honors college student, and vice president of Women in Tech, Sammy Chen-Li for sharing her vast knowledge of hackathons! If you’re looking to attend a hackathon anytime soon, Pace University’s Women in Tech Club is actually having their very own hackathon called Sunflower Hack! It’s scheduled to take place Saturday, February 29th, 2020 from 9 am to 9 pm on the 2nd floor of 163 William Street. It’s an 8-hour hackathon open to all current undergrad and grad students at Pace. For more information please click here!

Author: Brittany Benjamin

Brittany Benjamin is a sophomore at Seidenberg and a Content Writer for Seidenberg's school blog. She's majoring in Computer Science with a double minor in East Asian Studies and Digital Media Studies. Her dream in life is to travel the world and become fluent in as many languages as possible.