Things that matter in a Hackathon, and why hackathons matter.

12/20/2018
4 min read

This is an archived post from my college days, I had originally published elsewhere.

Hackathons. Until very recently, I too intuitively thought that these were some sort of competition related to hacking and computer security. However, Hackathons, which have little to do with hacking, are competitions where participant build a working product from scratch competing with time. The essence of hackathons is that in the very limited time given, the participants are challenged to somehow come up with a presentable product.

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Last week, I got a chance to participate in the Hackference India Hackathon 2018, in Bengaluru on 15-16th of December. This was my first ever hackathon, and I was teamed up with two incredible individuals – Venu (my mentor and third year senior), Akhil (best friend geek).

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In the hackathon, we built a web-app – GitLit, which is a social network to connect developers to projects of their interests and skillset, and build new open-source communities. We met several students coming from across India with amazing skill and high level of energies for the event, and also could broaden our minds attending the DevRel Conference conducted in association with it.

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At the end of the day, we didn’t win, but I had an obvious reason to celebrate. I got an internship offer from one of the event sponsors, GMETRI. However, for me, that isn’t the best thing gained going to the Hackathon, but instead we learnt to work as a team, understood how important it was to prioritize things, how hackathons were, what is expected out of a hackathon, how to sell your product and much more. It was indeed a very rich learning experience, that had a great impact on my perspectives and perceptions.

In this blog post, I would like to share some of those learnings.

Things that Matter in a Hackathon

Being technically brilliant alone won’t help in this game, but there are a couple of things which are just as important –

  1. Active communication between the team – there is no scope for ego and unhealthy debates, each in the team need to open up, engage and plan. So, forming a team of best friends is more likely effective than a bunch of nerds.
  2. Swift decision-making – given the limited time, there is no time to get confused or debate over feature A & B. Decisions must be taken quickly, and conflicts must be resolved in no time. My tip here would be to have a senior (i.e. much respected member) to lead the team than going in as a team of equals.
  3. Work Distribution – building a workable product from scratch, with the short deadline given is impossible to achieve alone. Each one in the team must be assigned with clearly defined tasks, and must own the responsibility. Though it would be perfect if everyone took up their share of the work, in most cases, some would lazily gear down if they are not challenged with clear tasks assigned for them. While it may seem much easier divide work with a team consisting of an expert web developer, an expert designer, an expert speaker etc., it is only going to backfire simply because it creates dependencies and one would need to wait for the other to finish his work, to start with one’s own. I would highly recommend to form teams where the skills of members are somewhat similar, so that everyone can work together as much parallelly as possible.
  4. Work Prioritization – in the end, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your UI is, or how efficient your algorithm is, but on how good it performs what it promises, all put together. There must be a clearly defined idea of the end-product in everyone’s minds, and they also must be free of fancy features atleast for now. Make an ugly looking, inefficient working product than a bunch of beautiful UI, well-commented code but just not yet working product.

Why go to a Hackathon?

  1. Molds an Innovator
  2. Challenging Situations
  3. Learning Experiences
  4. Meeting New People & Sharing Ideas
  5. Prize Money & Fame

That’s for now to share about Hackathons, but I really wish to write more on these. Perhaps, I wish to organize one too :P

PS: Hackathons really are great mean to explore new places, and I really enjoyed hanging out with my friends in Bengaluru. Next ones coming up in Mumbai, Shimla, Surat, Prayagraj to Prague….

All these would not have been possible without the amFOSS club in my college, and its founder Vipin Pavithran. I also thank Hackference India & its sponsors for conducting such an amazing event.

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