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10 Tips to Hack Your Way Into Hackathons 👾

Firangiz Ganbarli
CoE student, currently learning Python 🐍
・4 min read

Hackathons are great ways to build a portfolio, and you do not even need to be “good” at coding to attend most of them. With the experience of attending and winning a few hackathons under my belt, I will give you 10 Tips to Win at Hackathons.

1. Team or Solo?

Choose whether or not you want to go solo or with a team. I actually attended and won my first hackathon solo. Going solo gives you the advantage of timing, but if you do not have much experience in developing, presenting or designing, a team may help. With a team, it's crucial to choose the right team members or join a nice team.

Make sure your team:

  • Has people with complementary skill sets: at least one person as a designer, one as a presenter, and one who can code.
  • Is reliable: especially in virtual hackathons, there has been many disasters when my team member across from the world has overslept and our project failed

2. Be Prepared

Preparation is key in hackathons. For success, make sure all the setup is ready before the hacking starts, with IDEs and softwares installed.

Meet with the team before hacking starts, brainstorm ideas and choose one.

For choosing an idea, look at the categories of the hackathon:

  • If you want to at least win something, choose a niche category and try to build around that.
  • If you wanna go big, prioritize your team’s skill set and aim high. Judges should go “wow” when you are pitching, based on the idea and vision alone.

Do not try to overdeliver. Develop your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) as soon as your idea is ready.

MVP includes the key parts of the app that needs to be done to present it. Without MVP, your product isn’t technically finished.

  • What does your app absolutely need to function?
  • Add bonus features so that if you finish an hour early, you can add these features. Always Be Prepared!

3. Choose your tech stack carefully

While hackathons are great resources to learn new things, do not choose a tech stack that is completely out of your range. Choose a tech stack you are familiar with.

Prioritize on fully functional front-end setup. After all, to win hackathons, UI is key. Try to minimize the time needed to build the backend.

Nice tip: look at the sponsors of the hackathon. Most likely, judges want their software to be used.

4. Make time for learning and networking

One regret I have is that going to all these virtual hackathons, I have almost never contacted a mentor. Hackathons are great places to learn new skills, and you have the resources if something goes wrong. My tip:

  • After your idea is ready, talk with one of the mentors to guarantee your idea is feasible.
  • If you are experiencing troubles with the software, or anything at all, contact them.
  • Have the presenter/pitcher of the team talk with the mentors before demoing. It will be great practice for them.
  • Attend workshops! Most of the time, they provide great value on how to use software of the sponsors or might even provide future project ideas.
  • If there is anyone that you want to professionally network with, reach out to them on LinkedIn after the hackathon. I have built many connections this way, and it works amazingly!

5. Timing - How to not panic the last hour

Since hackathons are very intensive, the timing is a huge issue for many. Know that you are not alone, don’t panic and focus on being able to deliver something.

  • Don’t panic if you are late. Your product does not need to be perfect, just make sure you can finish something to present it.
  • Save time for presentation. Aim to finish earlier than the deadline so you have at least 2 hours for preparing and practicing presentation and pitching. Go easy on the tech stack: using some no-code services is totally okay in most hackathons!

Could we panic now?

6. Pitching and Judging 🤫

Winning a hackathon is all about pitching. There are so many things that can go wrong, but preparation and a bit of creativity can solve everything.

  • For the judging process, know exactly what judges want. Study the criteria well.
  • Get to know the judges: are they investors, developers or representative employees?

As for the presentation itself, I follow Jason’s template here.

Your presentation should have:

  1. The problem defined: what did you solve?
  2. Demo - show, don't tell. Make them go 😱. But have a video backup if necessary. Live demos might fail, handle it well.
  3. Comparison of your solution to existing products. Judges will consider this anyways, so if you show it yourself, it will be a huge bonus!

Have these slides at the end. Don't show them if not needed, but you can refer to them in the Q&A, or something occurs and you don't want complete silence:

  • What is the future for this project?
  • The Business Model
  • Tech Stack used
  • Difficulties that you had

That's it folks! I hope this helps you with your next hackathon, and if you have any questions please comment them below. 🦾

You can do it!

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