Idiot’s Guide To Hackathons (And Why Everyone Should Try It Once)

Last month I joined my very first hackathon. The picture below pretty much describes what happened.

Who would expect that a work at home mom, a student, and a businessman would win 2nd place at the AngelHack Davao hackathon? I know most people didn’t expect us to win anything, but the very definition of a hackathon actually makes it possible for anyone to join and win. And what a hackathon can actually do for a community is a great reason why anyone should try joining a hackathon at least once.

What Is A Hackathon?

Before I can tell you what a hackathon is, we have to clarify on what hacking is.

Most people are aware of hacking a the process of illegally gaining access to websites, networks or databases in order to deface them or steal information. This definition is correct. But hacking also means to alter something in order to make certain processes faster or to provide solutions to a problem.

So a hackathon is basically a race where individuals or teams compete to solve problems using only the resources available to them. Not a hacking orgy where a roomful of hackers compete to destroy as many websites and networks as possible in a limited amount of time.

The rules vary from hackathon to hackathon but the one thing they all have in common is the goal: to provide viable solutions to problems.

Why Everyone Should Try It At Least Once

Developers, programmers and designers are attracted to hackathons because of the competitive atmosphere and the opportunity to approach real life problems in a creative manner. But an ideally, a hackathon team should be comprised of technical and non-technical members, as varied as they could make it.

Why?

Because the most creative solutions happen when people think outside the box. And working with people who have different skills sets and experiences allows you to do that easier and faster.

A widely varied skill set also helps a team work faster and more efficiently by dividing tasks according to their expertise. Developers and designers create the app (or product) while the non-technical members do the research, create the content, prepare the pitch, etc.

It Ain’t Pretty

Hackathons and beauty pageants have a lot in common. The first thing they have in common is that all the work is done behind the scenes. Beauty queens have handlers, nutritionists, stylists, fitness trainers, pageant coaches, etc to prepare them for the pageant.

Hackathons have mentors that everything they can to make sure that your team is ready for the pitch. Mentors basically question everything that you do. My teammate complained how one of the mentors almost drove them to tears when he pointed out a ridiculously simple flaw that we didn’t notice before. But the great thing about mentors is that everytime they break you down, they throw you a line to help you lift yourself up. They won’t tell you how to make your product better, but they will leave you with enough breadcrumbs to help you find your way.

Beauty queens are judged on the actual competition. It doesn’t matter that it took them months of work and a team of people to get them ready for the competition. All that matters is how they compete on pageant day.

It’s basically the same thing with hackathons. It doesn’t matter how long you worked on your app or how hard it was for you to build you prototype. All that matters is that it works and you’re able to sell your idea during the pitch.

The pitch is the basis on how the different teams are judged. How well did they understand their problem? How innovative was their solution? Is their solution applicable and usable? How will it benefit everyone? These are just some of the questions that teams have to prepare for when making their pitch.

Hackathons Help

Joining a hackathon is a great way to help your favorite cause, your community or your industry because hackathons are always looking for problems that they can sink their teeth into.

The hackathon my team and I attended, for example, had the theme Hack2Help and the challenge was to create mobile apps that would aid disaster relief and prevention. This year alone there was a DOTC hackathon to help develop solutions for the worsening traffic situation of Manila and Cebu. And just a few months ago, the Philippine government opened up several databases to encourage hackers to find better ways to update, analyze and simplify government data.

Joining a hackathon was definitely a great learning experience for me. Hackathons are proof that if you want results, you need talent and hard work. And with a little bit of creativity, almost any problem can be solved.

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Julia Jasmine Sta Romana
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Julia Jasmine Sta Romana

Julia Jasmine Sta Romana is a writer, content development specialist and enterprise development trainer. She likes to write about science and technology, education, parenting, food, and always looking for ways to make working at home an easier and more fulfilling experience.
Julia Jasmine Sta Romana
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3 comments for “Idiot’s Guide To Hackathons (And Why Everyone Should Try It Once)

  1. December 9, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Fascinating. I wasn’t familiar with the term hackathon, but it makes sense. Hacking is a valuable technical skills and can help identify bugs and problems. I had know idea they have these types of competition and use it to help a good cause. That’s so cool!

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