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Happy Hackathoning - Do’s & Don'ts

Margo McCabe
On the innovative team @ HarperDB. Databases, dogs, skiing, #womenintech
・5 min read

With the HarperDB + Hashnode Hackathon upon us this month, I thought it would be a good time to share some tips on getting the most out of your hackathon participation. There are tons of great articles and resources out there of folks sharing their experiences and what they might do differently next time, so I’ll consolidate some of the best tips and open it up to the community to share your insights!

Why Participate in a Hackathon in the First Place

A few major benefits of participating in hackathons include:

  • Utilize your existing skills to showcase your potential, while learning new tools, frameworks, and languages at the same time
  • Challenge yourself, build something new, learn and grow
  • Collaboration; make new connections in the developer community, help each other out, add knowledgeable resources to your network
  • Solve real problems; many hackathons provide the opportunity to create solutions for real-world challenges
  • Prizes! Compete with other like-minded folks to earn cash and other sweet rewards, not to mention bragging rights
  • Build out your resume by showcasing your project and competitive edge

Most hackathons are (or should be) free to participate in, so there’s really not much risk other than your time commitment. What’s the worst that can happen? Even if you don’t win, it’s an awesome experience and great way to expand your skills, knowledge, and network. If you participate in 24-hour or similar hackathons, your ability to code / produce in a short period of time (probably under stress) is really being put to the test. However, many hackathons run for a couple weeks or more, allowing you to take your time and really focus on creating a quality app or project while showcasing your best work. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Utilize the community to let them know when you’re stuck - chances are someone else is dealing with the same challenge, and will appreciate the opportunity to collaborate. All of your hard work is sure to pay off in the end.

How to Set Yourself Up for Success in a Hackathon

Of course every developer is different, and each person has their own methods for success when competing in something like a hackathon. I’ve compiled some of my favorite advice, and would love to hear some of your tricks as well!

  • Find the right hackathon / competition; take into consideration things like timeline, tools/technologies/frameworks included and other guidelines, can you work in teams, etc. (Find a hackathon that will challenge you to learn something new, while also enabling you to utilize some of your existing skills and knowledge)
  • Start as soon as possible; set goals, outline your project, schedule out milestones, create lists of what needs to be done in what timeframe in order to succeed
  • Do your research before you begin; compile resources on the tools/technologies included, connect with the community to ask questions and brainstorm
  • Ask for help; reach out to the company sponsoring the hackathon for clarification, connect with other folks participating through communities like Slack or Discord, the more you can collaborate the better!
  • Learn as much as you can, take breaks when needed, come back to your code with a fresh perspective when you hit roadblocks
  • Final presentation; figure out how you want to present your app or project, get creative, stay organized, stand out
  • Don’t give up! Even if your project is not “perfect” you should still submit it, you might surprise yourself, and you’ll probably gain some helpful feedback from the judges
  • Keep in touch with connections you make throughout the process, use them as referrals, work together in the future
  • Continue to build upon the skills and knowledge you gained during the project, share your experience with others through blogging or social media, etc.

How to Find the Right Hackathon for You

There are hackathons happening constantly, year-round, and in this virtual day and age, you can almost always find a virtual hackathon to participate in. Some hackathons repeat yearly, such as Hacktoberfest and those listed on Major League Hacking. Many tech companies and communities will also sponsor hackathons with different tools and technologies throughout the year. You can hear about these hack opportunities in places like:

Keep your ear to the ground and chat with the community to see what they’re working on - this is also a great way to potentially find a team to work with! If you’re itching to get involved now, the HarperDB + Hashnode Hackathon is running until the end of June. You still have plenty of time to build a new project and earn sweet rewards!

Other Resources

As I mentioned, there are tons of helpful resources out there when it comes to hackathoning (if that’s a word) - on topics such as how to pick the right team, how to manage your time, what to do afterwards, etc. Here are a few articles I enjoyed:

If you’re looking for inspiration on what to build for your hackathon project, just look around. Learn about what people have built with the technologies / frameworks you need to work with, and put your own spin on it. For example, you can see some of the projects that won hackathons in the past or check out this list of new hackathon project ideas. Or if you’re participating in our hackathon this month, read some recent tutorials using HarperDB, such as building a Serverless App with GatsbyJS or a REST API with FastifyJS.


So, what are you waiting for? Happy Hackathoning!

Yoda - Win Hackathon You Will


What about you - what do’s and don’ts would you like to share based on your hackathon experiences? Are you participating in any currently or coming up this year?

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