Virtual Hackathons: All You Need To Know
Virtual hackathons are online events where people come together to explore challenges, and design and build solutions. Unlike physical hackathons, in a virtual hackathon the finale can be hosted from anywhere and do not have the same geographical boundaries—all you need is a live-streaming platform like Zoom to get started.
Furthermore, these hackathon finales last for a few hours or a few days. When we asked Vineet Khandelwal, Director of Customer Success at HackerEarth about the ideal duration of a hackathon, he said that the registration for a hackathon usually takes 4-8 weeks depending on the size of the community that the hackathon is targeting.
This timeframe is used to create a buzz about the hackathon in our community and enables the registered candidates to come up with a unique idea related to the theme of the hackathon. The time in which the participants can work on their ideas and submit a working prototype is usually another 4 weeks which ultimately end with a virtual finale.
If this sounds daunting, let’s break it down together as we take you through the intensive process of organizing virtual hackathons.
Why should you host a virtual hackathon?
A virtual hackathon comes with several perks that a physical hackathon would not have. Let’s talk about these benefits in detail.
With a virtual hackathon, you can reduce overheads you otherwise have to bear in a physical hackathon—the elimination of paying rent for physical venues, food, event settings, and more. Moreover, this makes it easier for candidates as well, as they can attend the hackathon from the comfort of their homes.
Most companies are becoming environment conscious, and virtual hackathons are helpful in that way.
With virtual hackathons, the carbon emissions the online event produces are much lesser than a physical event as participants don’t have to travel.
The research article published in International Journal of Environmental Studies talks about a case study based on a virtual conference held by Airminers in 2020, which produces 66 times less greenhouse emissions than in-person gathering in San Francisco would have done.
Clearly: Virtual hackathons are a boon for the environment too.
With physical hackathons, you can only invite local developers — from the same city, state, or nearby places. But virtual hackathons open doors to different geographical locations, helping the company get diverse participants with a large skillset.
Developers like to be associated with projects where they can use their skills for real-world problems. For example, if you want to introduce a specific technology in a geographical location you’ve never explored, participants from that region can give ideas and develop the technology that works well for people in that region.
How to host a successful virtual hackathon?
At HackerEarth, we have perfected a 4-step process for organizing and conducting a hackathon which we recommend to our clients. This process begins with ideating the theme for a hackathon and includes tips on promoting and gaining more participants as well. Let’s begin.
Step 1: Decide your goals
Ask yourself this—what do you want to accomplish with this virtual hackathon?
- Do you want to engage with participants and create awareness about your company?
- Do you want to develop a product prototype via crowdsourced ideas?
- Or, do you want to attract talent and hire them?
Once you have the answers, you can proceed further.
Let’s look at LGBTQIA+ matters, a recent virtual hackathon organized with the clear aim to foster cross-cultural dialogue, promote awareness and understanding of LGBTQIA+ issues and developing innovative solutions to address the challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ community.
Step 2: Pick a theme
Themes should be decided according to the trends in industry, the company’s own target audience and product lines, and whether they want to build employer branding by using CSR initiatives.
So, pick the theme for the virtual hackathon keeping these components in mind.
For example, the Perkins School of Blind used our end-to-end managed hackathon platform to host the Perkins Hacks in 2018. Participating developers had to build a wearable device for older people with lower vision to navigate spaces.
In this hackathon, the theme was visual impairment, and the challenge was building such a device that was never developed before.
But you don’t have to always stick to one theme. You can have multiple themes for a single hackathon.
💡Pro tip: HackerEarth’s Hackathons allows you to add multiple themes for the participants to pick from.
Step 3: Choose the timelines
Dates: Virtual hackathons are long-term events with multiple stakeholders. This is why, it is important to divide the duration into specific phases and timelines so that everything can move smoothly.
For example, virtual hackathon organized by Intel, the event timelines were broken down into individual phases: date of registration, dates when submission phase 1 and phase 2 start, and so on.
Step 4: Get the word out
Once you have planned all the elements like collaborating with judges, deciding on the prizes, setting up communication, etc., it’s time to promote the event.
A simple way to do it is to promote the virtual hackathon on social media. For example, companies use HackerEarth’s Hackathons to conduct their virtual hackathons where we promote their online hackathons on social media platforms like Twitter and drive registrations.
Here are some ways to spread the word about virtual hackathons:
- Get your employees to share about the virtual hackathon on social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Create a short video with your company’s leadership team and share it on the official social channels.
- Tell the participants the benefits of participating in the virtual hackathon—prizes, subject matter experts, and more.
- Conduct polls and ask questions to keep developers engaged and curious about the upcoming virtual hackathon.
What do you need to host a virtual hackathon?
Wondering what exactly you need to host a virtual hackathon? Here’s a list you must follow:
Here are a few tools you must use to host a virtual hackathon:
Video and text platform
Since the hackathon finale is hosted virtually, it’s imperative to choose a good video conferencing platform to conduct the event.
✅Google Meet and Zoom: Meet the participants virtually
Participants will need a place to manage all projects and timelines, and brainstorm ideas with their team members.
✅HackerEarth’s Hackathons: Registration of participants and organizations, managing the project and team formation.
✅Slack and Discord: Use asynchronous messaging platforms for more interactive group activities.
Centralized resource hub
Don’t give participants the chance to come to you during the live hackathon to ask about event-related information like rules, schedules, FAQs, contact information, and promotional material.
Instead, create a centralized resource workspace using Google Docs, Dropbox, or Notion and give access to each participant and share that on the hackathon page under the Resource Center tab. Here are a few suggestions from our end.
✅Google Docs and Dropbox: Save important documents and resources for participants and organizers to access
✅Notion: Create collaborative documents
Presentation during the finale
While Zoom and Google Meet’s screen-sharing options are good options to showcase presentations, and conduct a simple finale, to make it look more lucrative you can dip your toes in the latest technological advancements like VR using tools like Hubilio to make it more interesting..
Just like a physical hackathon, virtual hackathons too need to have a judging panel to assess the finished project and award prizes.
🧠Best practice: Invite subject matter experts related to the theme.
Also, having a judging panel can help you with the promotion. Here’s how: During the promotion, talk about the specific judges who’ll be judging the event and share their credentials.
This will drive curiosity and more interest from participants. Plus, ask the judges to promote the event on their social media channels and in their network to get more registrations.
While running a virtual hackathon, there’s no limit on the kind of prizes you can offer to the winners. Some of them include cash prizes, cryptocurrency, and digital and physical products.
For example, the organizers of HCL Volt MX Hackathon 2023 handed out multiple prizes after the hackathon ended which included the main prize category (the three winners get cash prizes worth $7000, 4000, and 3000) and special prizes with creative titles like ‘Most Innovative Submission’ and ‘Most Beautiful Design’.
Hackathon landing page or Wiki
You need a landing page to drive more registrations to your virtual hackathon. This is where participants can better get all the information they need about the virtual hackathon.
Companies without an official hackathon landing page can use HackerEarth’s hackathons platform to set up a landing page and share all the information related to the event.
Picture this: Your virtual hackathon is live. Participants are willing. Judges are curious to see the final project.
But there comes a blocker: the participants have a concern related to a specific component but alas, there’s no way for them to communicate about it.
That’s why, along with providing a platform that enables communication within teams, you also need to set up a company workspace, especially for online hackathons where one cannot just turn around and ask for help. This way participants can raise their concerns and get them addressed in real time.
A Slack or Discord workspace works great as developers are already familiar with such platforms and it has the necessary file sharing and other capabilities needed for such conversations.
What are good ideas for a virtual hackathon?
If you’re planning to host a virtual hackathon but are clueless about where to start, here are a few ideas you might find helpful.
Coindesk hosted a crypto, blockchain, and Web3-oriented hackathon called Consensus 2023 where they wanted to bring the Web2 developers into Web3 and support native Web3 builders. This virtual hackathon was focused on teams and projects open to seeking out the right protocols to build on it.
The Hacking Health Tech hackathon, hosted by Johnson and Johnson Medtech was aimed at building medical technology to enable efficiency in surgical procedures and developing wearable technology.
Some ideas you can use:
- Data management in clinics and hospitals
- GPS monitoring of ambulances
- Wearable devices
Consumer-tech hackathon (Microsoft)
The Microsoft Virtual Hackathon 2022 hosted by Microsoft Azure was aimed at solving real-world business problems using Azure AI.
Some ideas you can use:
- Automated workspaces
- IoT for homes
- Autonomous drones
General hackathon ideas
While there are several niche hackathons that we talked about above, you don’t have to always box your virtual hackathons. Instead, here are a few generic hackathon ideas you can use too:
- Impact Analysis hosted a virtual hackathon where they wanted frontend developers to build and design AI/ML-enabled enterprise SaaS software for retail companies
- DAO Global Hackathon 2023 was a 4-week virtual hackathon to get hackers to leverage existing tools and build governance and coordination tools
- AI Genesis hackathon is organized where developers will explore the power of artificial intelligence with themes in domains like gaming, social media, visual art, and music.
3 expert tips from top engineers that can make your virtual hackathons A+
Tip #1: Have clear communication
One tip I’d like to share with you is to prioritize clear and concise communication throughout the event. Effective communication plays a crucial role in ensuring participants understand the guidelines, challenges, and judging criteria.
As a judge at various events, including the design event at Michigan Tech University, I’ve witnessed how transparent communication fosters a positive and engaging atmosphere.
To achieve this, leverage multiple channels to disseminate information, such as a dedicated hackathon website or landing page. This page can serve as a central hub for participants, providing them with detailed instructions, schedules, and access to necessary resources. Additionally, consider hosting pre-event webinars or virtual orientation sessions to address any questions or concerns participants may have.
— Piyush Tripathi, Lead Engineer, Square
Tip #2: Make the navigation easier
Make sure the event is well-organized and easy to navigate. This means providing clear instructions and resources for participants, as well as having a dedicated team of staff members who are available to answer questions and provide support. It is also important to create a positive and engaging atmosphere for participants so that they feel comfortable and motivated to participate.
— Gaurav Nagani, Founder of Desku.io
Tip #3: Include social interaction time
In comparison to physical hackathons, the social aspects of virtual hackathons present the biggest challenge. Building relationships and cooperating with others requires extra effort because people are no longer working in the same rooms together.
— Maria Harutyunyan, Founder of Loopex Digital
How HackerEarth helps in maximizing virtual hackathons
We have put down the ins and outs of how you can host a virtual hackathon in your organization. We know the process of developing a virtual hackathon from scratch is time-consuming.
When time is money, and when your internal team doesn’t have the bandwidth to plan the event in detail, you can use HackerEarth’s end-to-end managed hackathons for organizing an event that will resonate with the developer community. From setting up the theme for your virtual hackathon to providing the landing page to promoting your virtual hackathon—HackerEarth does everything.
Curious to know more? Book a demo.
Frequently asked questions
What is a virtual hackathon?
A virtual hackathon is an event where individuals or teams connect virtually to collaborate and solve problems through technology.
During a virtual hackathon, participants usually work on projects related to software development, coding, design, or other areas of technology. They form teams, brainstorm ideas, and work intensively over a set period of time, typically ranging from a few hours to a few days or even weeks.
Participants collaborate remotely using various communication tools, such as video conferencing, chat platforms, and project management software. They leverage their skills, creativity, and expertise to develop innovative solutions, build prototypes, or create functioning applications or software.
Organizers of virtual hackathons provide participants with the necessary resources, guidelines, and access to relevant tools or technologies. They may also organize workshops, mentorship sessions, and expert talks to support participants in their projects. At the end of the event, participants typically present their work to a panel of judges who evaluate the projects based on criteria such as innovation, functionality, and presentation.
What are the advantages of virtual hackathons?
Virtual hackathons offer several advantages over traditional in-person hackathons. Here are some key benefits:
- Diversity: It allows participants from all over the world to participate in the event—increasing the diversity of participants and encouraging a wider range of perspectives and ideas.
- Cost-effective: Participants can save on travel expenses, accommodation, and other costs associated with attending in-person hackathons. Plus, organizations can bear lower expenses when compared to physical hackathons.
- Accessibility: Participants have immediate access to online resources, documentation, tutorials, and open-source libraries, which enables rapid learning and implementation of new technologies, frameworks, or tools during the event.
- Networking: It gives them a chance to connect with participants, mentors, industry experts, and potential employers from around the world—expanding their professional network, exploring job prospects, and seeking mentorship or guidance.
How can one ensure a smooth virtual hackathon experience?
To ensure a smooth virtual hackathon experience, consider the following tips:
- Clear communication: Establish clear channels of communication for participants, mentors, and organizers. For example, Zoom for video conferencing, Slack for messaging, and Notion for project management.
- Robust technical platform: Ensure that the live streaming platform can handle the expected number of participants and their activities.
- Detailed guidelines: Provide participants with detailed guidelines about the hackathon’s rules, project submission requirements, judging criteria, and timelines.
- Realistic timelines: Give participants sufficient time to prepare before the hackathon starts. Share relevant resources, pre-event materials, and any specific challenges or problem statements in advance so participants can familiarize themselves with the topic.
- Mentors and support: Arrange subject matter experts to support participants during the hackathon. Offer mentorship sessions, Q&A opportunities, and technical assistance to help teams overcome obstacles and enhance their projects.
- Regular check-ins: Schedule regular check-ins with participants to monitor progress, address concerns, and provide guidance. Use video conferencing or chat platforms to hold virtual stand-up meetings or progress updates.
- Engaging workshops and talks: Organize virtual workshops or talks on relevant topics to enhance participants’ skills and knowledge—technical skills, design thinking, project management, or industry insights, providing valuable learning opportunities.
- Transparent judging process: Clearly communicate the judging criteria and process to participants in advance.
Which platform is best for a hackathon?
HackerEarth’s hackathons platform helps companies conduct virtual hackathons from scratch. They provide a process management team, creative and design support, organic event promotion, and evaluation of product ideas.
What are the types of hackathons?
- Internal hackathons: These hackathons are conducted internally within the organization. Here, employees collaborate to solve internal challenges, develop new products or features, or foster innovation in the company.
- External hackathons: These hackathons are conducted externally where participants outside of the organization share their skill sets and bring in innovative solutions such as a product prototype.
- In-person hackathons: These are physical hackathons where participants come together in one place to work on projects. These events usually last for a few hours or a few days. In such hackathons, participants are restricted as only location-specific folks can only participate.
- Virtual hackathons: These are virtual events where participants from any geographical location can participate. These hackathons are hosted on a live-streaming platform which makes it easier for talent from different geographical locations to come and participate.
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