Hackathon. If you’re an engineering major, you’ve probably encountered this term before but what exactly is a hackathon and why is it so important? In a nutshell, a hackathon is an event (usually lasting 24 hours or more) where developers get together in teams and collaborate on a software/hardware project or hack. While competitive in nature, hackathons should never be taken as just a “coding competition” because they offer so much more than that.
To begin with, hackathons are a massive learning experience for students. You get a chance to apply your knowledge on an actual project and create something tangible instead of relying on the bi-annual regurgitation of crammed information (i.e. examinations) to be the sole judge of your skills. Additionally, since most hackathons don’t have a selection process, you can sign-up regardless of whether you have a lot of experience or none at all.
As a student, during the 24 hours (or more), you will be amazed by the amount of knowledge you can gain. With everyone coding away, you will definitely feel the urge to do the same and Google & Stack Overflow will become your new best friends. In addition to learning by yourself, you will also grow as a developer through others around you. This is because hackathons are also inherently social events where you can interact with like-minded people and talk about their latest projects as well as their preferred tools and resources. This will give you a chance to network with and become part of the local developer community. Additionally, if you’re at a hackathon organized or sponsored by a top tech firm, you may even get a chance to network with their employees, which may prove very useful during your search for internships and full-time opportunities.
Hackathons also teach you how to code in a team, which is very different from coding solo. You will not only learn how to debug someone else’s code but how to make your own code friendly enough to be debugged by your teammates as well, which is something most students don’t practice on a day-to-day basis. At the same time, you will learn to use essential tools like Git and GitHub to prevent one wrong line of code from forcing you to re-write the entire project. You may even learn how to handle conflict if team discussions suddenly go south at 3 AM. At the end of the day, you will definitely grow as a team player.
Apart from expanding your skills and network, hackathons also give you tons of free schwag. You get free T-shirts, stickers, gadgets and much more. While all the free stuff seems worthless on the surface, it invokes a sense of community and makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger. Also, I can tell you from personal experience that wearing any hackathon T-shirt really helps break the ice when you meet other developers.
At the end of the day, a hackathon allows you to not only showcase your talent but understand it as well. It allows you to test your skills in the best possible way and helps you realize what your strengths and weaknesses are.
“Talk is cheap. Show me the code.” - Linus Torvalds
From major universities to major tech companies, everyone seems to be holding a hackathon for students these days and I don’t see a single reason why you shouldn’t join the next one. See you there!