You’ve just registered for your first ever hackathon. Your travel information is confirmed, you booked your time off work/school, and now you’re so hyped! Well, I hate to break it to you, but 2020 has other plans. Due to COVID-19, the hackathon is going to be hosted online instead.
Although traditional hackathons are some of the most exciting environments to learn cool things and to meet new people, online hackathons still have plenty to offer. My name is Tailai and I’m a developer for the technology team at The GoldenHack. This guide will give you an overview of what to expect at an online hackathon, how to make the most of it, and introduce you to some insights along the way!
Firstly, we must answer an important question:
A hackathon is a design sprint-like event; often, in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, domain experts, and others collaborate intensively on software projects. (Dictionary.com, 2020)
The formal definition is comprehensive, but I like thinking of hackathons as spaces where passionate people come together to learn by doing. The GoldenHack does this by bringing together Business, Technology and Design students and letting their imaginations run wild. For 24 hours, students innovate by building tech solutions for real world problems, fueling the spirit of entrepreneurship.
Cool, now you understand what a hackathon is. Let’s get into some logistics and finer details :D
Online hackathons typically follow a format like this:
Hacking Time (Workshops, Activities, and Hacking)
These can be hosted by a sponsor or hackathon representatives, usually earlier on during hacking time. Workshops either exist to teach the fundamentals of hackathon skills or introduce cool new tech to work with. At the GoldenHack, topics covered will include Project ideation, Web Development, UX Design, Startup Pitching, AR/VR, and much more!
Traditional Hackathons have some pretty iconic activities (cup stacking, !Light, etc.). Not being able to interact in person puts some restrictions on the team building games, but you can still expect lots of fun stuff! Video games, online puzzles, and design challenges are great opportunities to bond with other hackers and to possibly win exclusive prizes/swag 😊
The bulk of the weekend will be dedicated to hacking. During this time, you and your teammate(s) will be working on your very own hackathon project. You might have planned out your idea beforehand, or maybe you came up with something at the Project Ideation workshop. Either way, you now have 24 hours to build it out! The developers will grind away at countless bugs and technical difficulties, the designers will let their artistic juices flow, and the businesspeople will figure out how to pitch it all together. Your team should hang out in a discord server with some music, attend some workshops and activities, and maybe even get a Netflix Party going when you need a break. Hacking time is tiring and high-pressure, but it really brings people together and will be a great bonding experience!
Submission and Judging Processes vary by hackathon, so make sure to get these details at the opening ceremonies
Sheesh, the hackathon weekend is action-packed. Here are some pointers on how to get the most out of it!
Although many successful hackathon teams are formed on the spot, forming a team before the event amongst your friends or on the event social media saves a lot of time. It also gives more opportunities to brainstorm and to come up with ideas!
Do you want to learn a new technology? Do some preliminary research on it to avoid reading documentation on the night of.
Do you want to win a prize? Review the judging criteria and brainstorm how you and your team can pull it off!
The hosts and mentors who run these are volunteers who are truly passionate about what they do. Even if you’re an expert on the subject matter, reinforcing your fundamentals at an introductory workshop could be an eye-opening experience.
This might seem obvious, but its easier said than done. At a traditional hackathon, there’s plenty of stuff going around in the vicinity so you’re incentivized to move around. However, its easy to get engrossed in your work when its just you and your team in a virtual meeting. Remember to hydrate, stretch, and get mental resets to perform better!
I hope this short guide helps you out at an online hackathon! If you think I missed anything, or if you have extra questions, feel free to reach out to me via email: email@example.com Enjoy your (socially distant) hackathon ❤️
Full-Stack Developer and Hackathon Aficionado