Hackathons 101 — and why you should consider going to one

I just returned home from my 6th hackathon in less than a year. It was a long, tiring, and amazing 24 hours — and totally worth it! Every time I attend one of these events, it feels like I am getting a month’s worth of learning, all crammed into a single weekend. On top of that I’ve met the most amazing people, built some cool projects (most of my portfolio outside of work), and incorporated a company. Which has been so worth it for a few hours of lost sleep here and there.

I am definitely planning to attend more in the future, and, if you haven’t been to one yet, I hope you might consider it for the future. Types of hackathons There are many different types of hackathons, but they all have several things in common:

Time limit — usually between 8 and 48 hours

Theme — organizers will ask that you build a certain type of application (like Internet-of-Things) or they’ll tell you to use a certain technology

Prizes — generally awarded for the best overall applications and for apps that fit into certain categories, or use a certain technology

There is usually plenty of information online about the rules, judging, technologies, etc. It doesn’t take that long to read about the event and avoid surprises when you get there. Quite a few hackathons are for only for students, and in those cases adults can sometimes attend as mentors, but not participants. Several hackathons I’ve been to even had a Q&A or panel discussion first to talk about what they were looking for in app submissions. Some also have online boards to team up and get to know each other prior to the event. Meeting staff and participants early on helps to ease my social anxiety and give me a confidence boost. FYI: Some of my favorite hackathons are Give Camp, Start-up Weekend, and Civic-minded local hacks. Let me know if there is another one I should attend!