Why You Should Attend Hackathons
Written by Allen Thomas Varghese
Hackathons have become a buzz word these days. It seems like every tech company out there is organizing a hackathon - free and paid, over the weekends and few during weekdays. The theme for these events range from mobile apps, cloud apps, IoT, augmented reality (DAQRI) and data science. For those who have not attended a hackathon yet, the event has a theme or a topic for which the participants would have to come up with problems and creative solutions. Participants sign-up for these events for various roles - Software/ Hardware Developer, Business Analyst, Marketeer, Graphic Designer, UX Expert, Domain Specialist etc. The attendees gather together on the 1st day to network and interact with the employees from the host company and share ideas. This is followed by an open mic session where everyone gets a chance to pitch an idea. No idea is silly or booed at. I must say, there is nothing like this to boost your confidence in public speaking! After pitch session is over, ideas are put to vote. The top 10 to 15 ideas depending on the number of participants are chosen to be worked on during the remaining days. Mentors would be present during the event to help the team in crystallizing their ideas and to focus on the right aspects to develop a prototype. There would also be a lot of buzz on Twitter and Facebook about the event with lots of photographs and musings sent out. On the final day, judges arrive and the participants gather around eagerly to showcase what they achieved during 50+ hours. Prizes are handed out, accompanied by great applause and cheer from the audience. Food and drinks are aplenty to keep the grey cells ticking. Sleep is something that you do not embrace during the event!
The above schedule might seem too much for the uninitiated. Having attended ~10 hackathons in the past 12 months (within Dublin, Ireland), I can testify that you lose track of time once the event starts, which is a good thing. I love to attend hackathons because of the following reasons:
Networking: This is one of the best places to find committed people who are invested in self-improvement and learning. You learn a lot over a chat.
Industry Trends: New insight into the current trends of the industry are shared openly to spur creative and innovative ideas. Have an eclectic mix of people encourages cross-pollination of ideas from different industries, ushering vibrant brainstorming discussions.
Recruitment: Some companies use a hackathon as an opportunity to identify potential hires. During the course of the event, there would be key players in each team whose brilliance just shines through. Various aspects of working in a team are put to a harsh test, as everyone in a team would usually be strangers. To build a working prototype and make a pitch with a set of marketing slides is not easy to pull off without excellent time and project management. This first hand view of skills in a person is very hard to put through the test compared to the usual recruitment process.
Find a co-founder: This happens more often than one might imagine. People who attend such events usually work on multiple projects and have a vision of how things should be done or how the project should go forward. They are on the lookout for complementary skills and events such as hackathons are a fertile ground for meeting people with various skillsets. I have partnered with many people on projects involving mobile apps, websites, hardware and data visualization, just because of hackathons! Who knows, your next internship might be through someone that you met at a hackathon.
Skills Upgrade: Events such as these force you to step out of your comfort zone and think out-of-the-box often making yourself aware of the skills that you miss. The monotonous nature of work would not usually push you to explore new horizons unless you are very driven and motivated. Having done server development for quite a long time, I quickly understood that I need to brush up on my app development skills and have since worked on improving my app design and development skills.
Hackathons and similar events provide the opportunity to constantly validate yourself among the rich diversity of people opened up by Dublin. If you happen to attend a hackathon or a startup weekend or something similar in Dublin, we might run into each other. Don't be shy. Come up and say hi. You never know, it might be the start of something wonderful. Happy Hacking!