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Henrique Macedo for TAIKAI

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Hack the Hackathon (Part I)

Hack the Hackathon is a mini-series (it's only three actually) of how you should plan your participation in your next hackathon. I'm here (you already met me from other publications to teach you everything you need to know. Ready?

First things first, what is a hack·a·thon?

We can have several interpretations of what a hackathon is, we can even confuse a hackathon with an ideathon, or with a datathon, or with any other word ending in “thon”. We may all have a different definition of what a hackathon is, from what we hear, from an experience we had, or just because we think it is another thing.

The short answer from Wikipedia:

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.

And to make these events even more complicated, we can have a single challenge for several types of marathons. For example, we can have a challenge that starts as an ideathon. But at a later stage, after selecting some projects, it becomes a hackathon to develop and put into practice the ideas generated in the initial phase. No rule book dictates what is right or wrong in this type of event. It is up to each organizer to understand what is best for them and what they hope to achieve in the end.

And after having participated in more than 10 hackathons in recent years, for me, the main goal of a hackathon is to develop a functional prototype of software or hardware. That’s what I’m going to write about.

Online vs Offline: you choose

There are many types of hackathons. We have 24-hours hackathons, we have 48-hours, or we can even have hackathons that run for months. We can have hackathons that have no specific theme and that are open to any type of solution. We have others in which participants will have to develop a solution within a set of topics from a single or more partner, as is the example of Pixels Camp. We can also have a particular hackathon, which aims to find a solution to a single problem, such as the d|Code Challenge.

I love hackathons, whether online or offline. These are challenges that end up testing us, that force us to leave the comfort zone and where we end up learning in a short time what we would probably learn during a month.

Regardless of the type of hackathon, it ends up bringing together a set of incredible people with different backgrounds, but who end up sharing the same taste for developing new products and finding solutions around a problem. This turns out to be one of the best things a hackathon can offer. The community, the networking and the environment that allows us to learn from each other. But also a unique opportunity to meet many other people from completely different areas.

Although the purpose of a hackathon is the same in an online and offline version, they have as much in common as they do differently.

An offline hackathon is more tiring, time tends to pass faster, and it is usually carried out in large and cold spaces. Food is also not the best, but I have noticed a difference in the last few years, where you can see a more careful, more balanced and diversified diet.

In an offline hackathon, the adrenaline is higher, and we get more nervous as time passes. Also, in the final pitch, there are hundreds of people waiting to hear what we have to say.

But the best thing that an offline hackathon can offer is undoubtedly the ease of networking with the rest of the community. We have the possibility of meeting all kinds of people, like CEOs of large companies or developers from startups that build products that we use daily.

In an online hackathon, we also have the networking part. However, it happens differently and probably does not flow in the same way as in a face-to-face event. But one of the significant advantages of an online event is that it can be global and can have participants from all corners of the globe. This makes it possible to have participants from different origins and different cultures, will bring a higher number of solutions presented, and with varying types of approach. The costs of an online event are substantially less than an offline event, and this applies to both sides, those who organize and those who participate.

While organizing an online hackathon does not involve costs of the venue, food, etc., participants also do not have the costs of travel, sometimes overnight stays, etc. But the great thing that an online hackathon can have is a possibility that allows us to be working on a solution for Coca-Cola today and tomorrow for NASA. It’s a game-changer!

In short, online and offline hackathons have several things in common:

  • Learning: you learn a lot, whether it is a new programming language, a framework, an area opposite to the one you deal daily, or even to communicate better in a team or in public;
  • Networking: ideal environment to meet new people, to review those with whom we meet in this type of events, to talk to people in front of large companies or ahead of products we use in our daily basis;
  • Portfolio: in the end, you end up bringing a project to the table, made from scratch by you and your team and in which you must be proud because you gave everything to achieve it in a short period (Hey, here you have a project that we developed in just 48-hours, imagine if we’ve had 3 months!);
  • Teamwork: teamwork is a vital tool for hackathons and basically for everything in life. Learning to communicate what you can and cannot do in a project, what you want to achieve and what learnings you wish to have throughout the challenge.

Are you feeling the adrenaline to participate in our next challenge? Beware, we’re launching today the d|Code Challenge by CTT. Excited yet? Learn more about it here.

Next week, we’ll talk about how important it is to create the right team and how you can do it easily through TAIKAI’s platform.


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