Well, we all know Hashnode's Netlify hackathon is in full swing at the moment. So I decided to share my thoughts on hackathons. I will discuss the best practices in a hackathon from start to end. If you are a beginner who is hesitant to take part in hackathons or someone who participates a lot in hackathons and is still unable to win something, then please read this.
Why you should listen to me though? I have participated in 6 hackathons last year and I won in 3 of them.
- ShellHacks by Florida University (JP Morgan Category)
- Calhacks by UCLA (Microsoft Category)
- Hack the Bronx by New York Bronx Community (Overall 2nd Place)
So, I feel I have a decent experience to talk about hackathons. So without wasting any time, let's look at the 4 most important things I feel you must keep in mind while participating in a hackathon.
Trust the strangers
Even if you are a solo warrior, don't try to be solo in the hackathons. Whenever you join a hackathon, you will be taken to a Discord or Slack channel. There will be a special channel for making teams. There, tell whatever tech-stack you know and share links to your Github or Linkedin profile. A lot of teams have one member missing. It can be a frontend/backend or design member.
2 out of the 3 hackathons above, I won with a team whom I met on Discord.
There are high chances that you will end up in a team. Once you end up in a team, then talk to other members. Ask them if they have an idea in mind or not. If yes, then give your best and work with them. Don't think if their idea is good enough or not. Since you are a beginner, your goal must be to learn and not target a win. Hackathons are all about building that teamwork quality and working under pressure.
Target the Categories
A lot of teams just target for the GRAND PRIZE but there are a lot of categories that you must aim for. Recently, I took part in a hackathon where 60 projects were submitted, and out of that only 3 were registered for the Twilio category. See how drastically the competition reduced?
Target the categories. If you were planning to host on Azure but there is a Netlify category prize, then learn how to host on Netlify and qualify yourself in the category. You can see 3 of my 4 prizes were category prizes.
Everyone thinks that making the app/website only functional will make them a strong contender. You are partially right but UI matters too. Your UI must be very very good to catch the eyes of the judges. The judges will move around more in your app/website if they feel the UI is sleek and beautiful.
There were hackathons where my apps were fully functional. Probably over functional for a 2-day hackathon but we still didn't win anything because our UI was very amateur. On the other hand, where our app didn't have one or two functions working properly but had an amazing UI, we won!
Presentation is the Saviour.
This is the most underrated part of the hackathon. Whatever you build has to be explained in this 2-3 minute presentation. Make sure it is of the topmost quality. At times, there are a lot of entries in a hackathon and judges may check the submissions of teams that have a very good presentation.
Whatever you are trying to build, explain properly. This is how a good presentation should go,
- Tell the problem
- How your idea provides the solution
- Features of your apps in bullet list form
After the presentation, also make sure that your demo is short and on the point. Show all the main features and edit the video if it is going out of the time limit. The time constraints of presentation are very strict in major hackathons. Try to keep your presentation within the time limit.
I would like to conclude by saying that as a beginner, focus on making teams with strangers and building something. Once you are comfortable with that then try to focus on the other 3 points. If you follow all 4 points then I am sure you will surely win something in your next hackathon.
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