Sitara Ramesh

Things to know before a hackathon

I spent my last two years in college thinking about ‘hackathons’ and the ‘hacker(thon) experience.’ As a member of the team that organizes my college’s hackathon—LA Hacks. In the two years and because of the couple of hackathons I participated in, I’ve learnt a fair bit about what to know before attending hackathon (at least a collegiate one).

Original Image by the LA Hacks teamOriginal Image by the LA Hacks team

People are, for the most part, friendly.

Most hackers attend hackathons to create cool projects, and meet new, interesting people. Hackathons facilitate a deeper sense of networking as people more inclined to talk to you since they’d want to learn from you, form a team with you, or just hang out when they’re taking a break from staring at a computer screen. There’s always the one or two cases where people are condescending or sneaky, but those are quite rare and to be expected even outside of the hackathon realm. So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and be social!

It’s not difficult to learn something new.

Hackathons, at least the good ones, usually have an abundance of mentors that can help you learn almost anything you wanted to learn. Other hackers are generally willing to help out too! Don’t worry about not knowing much going in; just go in with a mindset to learn.

You will be able to sleep.

Barely anyone stays up the whole 36+ hours. Even if hackathons don’t provide sleeping arrangements, most hackers make do by sleeping in literally any open area they find. Some even bring inflatable mattresses and sleeping bags for extra comfort.

You do need to know a little bit going in, but you don’t even have to be good.

You’ve probably seen many posts about how you don’t need to know any programming going in. That is true, to some extent. If you’re a UX or graphic designer, for example, you can still contribute heavily to your team and learn a lot at a hackathon without knowing how to code. But if you come in not having a little bit of knowledge in any field that you can use at a hackathon, you’ll have trouble getting started.

It’s not about the raw skill, it’s about how you put it together.

Hackathons have evolved from a place where computer science geeks gather to just build and ship projects and show of their technical skill. As a hackathon organizer in a past life, I can tell you that a lot of the judging happens based on the way a project is presented. Even if the criteria includes some level of technical vetting, at the end of the day it’s how a team presents a project that gets them into the top 10.

Hackers just want to have fun!

Hackers attend hackathons to have fun, learn something new, and make something cool. Generally speaking, people don’t attend hackathons solely for the intention of being the very best (sorry, Ash Ketchum).

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