Hackathon 101

For participants

Why should I attend a hackathon?

A hackathon is a sprint-like event, aimed at solving a defined problem in a finite amount of time. Teams of graphic designers, developers, subject matter experts, and project managers work together to find the best solution for a given problem statement.

A hackathon is a great place to network, test your skills, and build a great portfolio. Here are five reasons why you should attend a hackathon:

1) Learn something new

You will be exposed to actual problems to work on at a hackathon. To solve problems fast, you will have to focus and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. You can enhance your ability to work under pressure and collaborate and acquire new technical skills. The exposure you get by interacting with many people helps improve your soft skills. You can master the art of pitching project ideas like a pro.

2) Get rewards and recognition

Hackathons are a great platform to get recognized for your skills and ideas. You can showcase your coding skills to the world. Your prototype could win you some cool prizes, from cash and software licenses to internship opportunities. An impressive demo could land you a full-time role with one of the sponsoring companies. You can even find investors at a Hackathon to fund your next big idea.

3) Network

Hackathon is the best place to connect with people who are passionate about building products. Use the event to connect with people from diverse backgrounds and build your professional network. Take the opportunity to interact with companies that organize or sponsor the event. Learn more about career opportunities with them. By showcasing your skills, you can build your brand in the tech community. Go to a hackathon, and you might bump into your co-founder or future boyfriend! Learn more here: http://blog.hackerearth.com/2015/04/i-found-my-boyfriend-at-a-hackathon.html

4) Build something cool

The best part about hackathons is the sense of accomplishment you feel when you create something out of nothing in a short span of time. Often, lack of execution kills good ideas. The intense, competitive spirit of a hackathon helps you focus on building a tangible prototype for your team. The result at the end of the day is a working prototype, a prototype that you can proudly show off in your portfolio. Attend a hackathon to build something cool in just a few days and feel like a winner.

5) Socialize and have fun

Hackathons are one of the few places where work is fun. As a participant, you can enjoy free food, fun activities, socialize, and have a great experience. Even if you’re not great at coding, a hackathon will expand your vision, skill sets, and professional network. All this in just a short span of time! Attending a hackathon comes with many advantages that will pleasantly surprise you. Read more: https://www.hackerearth.com/sprints/info/participant/surprising-advantages-of-attending-a-hackathon/

Attend Hackathons

If you are new to the hackathon community, you can search for hackathons to attend here: https://www.hackerearth.com/challenges/

Should I add my hackathons to my CV?

Absolutely! You can use hackathons to your advantage in your job search by listing them in your resume. Even if you did not win the competition, mentioning the contributions you made at hackathons not only shows your interest in building products but also helps potential employers learn more about your technical interests. Many Fortune 500 companies, such as Google, look for portfolios from prospective candidates at the time of hiring. By attending a hackathon, you can build a good project to add to your portfolio. Here are a few tips on how to list hackathons in your resume:

1) Showcase your project

You can give your resume a boost by adding your hackathon experience under the projects section of the resume. A good rule to follow is to include only noteworthy hackathon projects that make your resume look more impressive. Give a summary of what you worked on. Explain your product, its functionality, and its features. Don’t forget to mention if you made it to the top 5 or top 3 of the final teams. Do highlight any awards or recognition that you may have received.

2) Mention the framework and technology used

Mention the technology used and the framework that you worked on, for the project. Highlight how you used your skills and expertise to solve problems that came up.

3) Explain the application of your product

Detail your vision for the prototype that you built. Explain how you came up with the idea and the domains where you see the application of your product.

4) Talk about your contribution in the team

Focus on your accomplishments in the hackathon in bullet points. Explain what you designed or built as part of the project. Mention the team size that you worked with for the project.

Companies are always on the lookout for innovators who can face challenges and solve difficult problems. By listing your hackathon experience, you can beef up your resume, build your personal brand, and stand out from the rest of the crowd.

If you are new to hackathons, you can join communities like HackerEarth to connect with developers and stay updated with the latest hackathons that are happening around you. To participate in our current ongoing hackathons, visit: https://www.hackerearth.com/challenges

Who has the intellectual property of my idea?

When it comes to hackathons, the big question is, ‘Who owns these inventions?’ It can vary from hackathon to hackathon. The conditions of participation in a hackathon may include alternative arrangements, such as first-look rights, exclusive rights, or shared IP rights. Also, the finalists and winners are generally given prizes or sums of money – essentially in exchange for their ideas.

Ownership of inventions for internal hackathon

In case of an internal hackathon where organizations conduct these events for their employees, all rights are owned by the company. It has the total ownership of inventions made by its employees.

Ownership of inventions for open hackathons

In case of an open or a public hackathon, the ownership rights are often open to dispute. In this case, the inventions are made by an unpaid third party — the hackathon participants.

How to avoid disputes

Companies and participants should think through Intellectual Property (IP) rights for hackathon inventions before the event to avoid sticky legal issues. Here is what you can do to avoid ownership disputes at hackathons:

1) If you are an organizer, rely on professionals to conduct the hackathon A professional hackathon platform or agency will help you create a foolproof hackathon policy that addresses all the details of IP rights. Whether it is an internal hackathon or an open hackathon, it is crucial to have a good IP strategy before conducting the hackathon. Be clear on the rules for the use of tools and content that is made available to participants. Communicate these policies related to invention ownerships clearly to the participants. Additionally, companies can create clear employment agreements for their employees, limiting their participation in hackathon projects in related product lines where there is a possibility of a conflict of interest.

2) If you are a participant, read the participation rules and guidelines carefully

As a participant, read the hackathon agreements and rules carefully before attending the event. Most of the time, the intellectual property will belong to you. However, if a company is conducting the event, in which case, if you work on its API, the idea will belong to them. Be sure to double check with the organizer. If you are employed elsewhere, review the hackathon terms to see if your participation causes any conflict of business interest with your current employer. Being aware of the IP risks and opportunities can help both organizers and participants avoid ownership disputes at hackathons.

Surprising advantages of attending a hackathon!

HackerEarth concluded IndiaHacks 2017 recently. I learned many things from the series of hackathons that were conducted across multiple problem statements and themes. It became one of the most memorable events in my life. The sheer energy in the room, learning about people’s backgrounds, pressure of meeting various deadlines, and creating the presentation at the last moment to explain the entire idea is something I will remember for a very long time.

I have been attending various hackathons for more than a year now. IndiaHacks was not my first hackathon but after attending some of the other events locally I had asked myself why I needed to attend another hackathon that “promised” bigger sponsors, better prizes, and top quality attendees. But, I’m so am glad I took up my friend’s invite to this event.

This is what I learned from my experiences. Go to hackathons:

  • To have fun
  • To earn money
  • To network with other professionals
  • To build a portfolio for future employment
  • To recognize what you know and what you don’t
  • To challenge yourself to solve a tough problem
  • To socialize and make friends
  • To contribute to a large project of common interest
  • To grow as a person

To have fun

The best times I had as a developer were not when I wrote code but when I discussed, debated, and exchanged notes on architecture and reflected on how a certain technology will grow. Hackathons provide a platform to work with people with vast experiences in varied backgrounds. To discuss with such people, implement those ideas, and build a prototype is way more fun than you know!

To earn money

Most of these hackathons involve sponsors, and it is a wonderful opportunity for you to work on your skills, hopefully build something interesting, and get rewarded for it. The prizes can range from t-shirts and goody bags to significant amounts of cash and even funding to take your ideas to market.

To network with other professionals

Hackathons tend to attract people from different backgrounds, not just from a technology background. Working with such a diverse set of people helps you understand the challenges they faced and how they approached some of them. This helps you to build your ideas further, makes you think about customers, product adoption, makes your ideas more mature, and encourages broader thinking.

To build a portfolio for future employment

With time, the value of resumes has waned and there has been an increasing need to create and develop an online presence. Job seekers must ensure they have an online portfolio. According to a Forbes report, 56% of all hiring managers are more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool. Hackathon organizers usually use a platform which allows you to create your own profile or link your existing profile to their platform.

To recognize what ‘you know’ and what ‘you do not’

A diverse set of people with a wide range of skills attend hackathons. The information they had access to or the rich experiences they had in building technology products can sometimes give you a complex. It is rare that two people have the same thought process. An Android developer is different from an iOS developer. Raspberry Pi and Arduino developers think differently. High school students, developers, and aspiring hackers from colleges and working professionals think differently. Product managers, UX designers, SEO experts, and ethical hackers all think very differently. Each one has a different life hack or a tech hack up his sleeve. Just knowing SQL can sometimes make you the query ninja of the team. Do not be nervous to share your knowledge or speak about your limitations in the company of others. This will help you learn more from the hackathon.

To challenge oneself to solve a tough problem

A hackathon is not really about glamour; it is more about solving a complex problem. A tough technology-driven or social problem tends to attract great, diverse talent (See example here). The range of ideas that come from such a group can be truly astounding. You have an opportunity to work with talented individuals and contribute to solving global issues.

To socialize, meet interesting people and make friends

Hackathons are timed events and this time constraint along with the larger goal of the hackathon forces people to work together. A study by Markus Heinrichs and Bernadette von Dawans at the University of Freiburg (Germany) suggests that acute stress may actually lead to greater cooperative, social, and friendly behavior in both women and men. This makes for a great connect with individuals in the team.

To contribute to a large project of common interest

Not all hackathons are offline ones, where you need to go in person. Many of them are online. You can interact with others via social channels before accepting them as a part of your team or becoming a part of their team. The idea or the prototype you work on is connected to your profile and lists you as a contributor. This gives you a good chance to not only develop your profile but to also contribute to open- source projects while taking part in the hackathons.

Companies sometimes sponsor hackathons to advertise their APIs or products to developers. Most times the companies are more worried about the ideas and the solution, and it is completely fine to build on top of an existing repository. The terms and conditions are laid out pretty clearly in all platforms. These hackathons give you the opportunity to contribute to projects of public/ common interest and provide you with a first-hand experience of working with some of the latest technologies. This can add immense value to your profile.

To grow as a person

Every hackathon is a new experience with a new set of problems to solve and new people to meet. Every hackathon has helped me learn at least one new thing. Each hackfest has demanded a different thought process. This has enabled me to constantly push myself and grow as a person.

I wish I knew about hackathons earlier. The best part about hackathons is that you do not have to be a good programmer (although it helps). There are many wrong notions like you need to stay overnight or that nothing productive ever comes out of hackathons. Go to a hackathon with a clear, open mind along with willingness to meet new people, learn from their diverse experiences, and I believe you will have a great experience.

About Author

Anand Hariharan is the product manager at HackerEarth. With over 10 years of experience in the software industry, he has successfully managed many critical technology projects for companies like Cognizant, People Interactive and Zinnov. Anand is passionate about technology and building new products.

9 Best life hacks for a hackathon

There are always these small annoying hurdles while participating in a hackathon that sometimes make everything so difficult; they eat into your precious hacking hours!

However, with this list of hacks, you will know what best practices should be followed and what preparations need to be done while participating in a hackathon. Not only that, these hacks could just be what you need to find success at the event.

  1. Choose the best team
  2. Distribute tasks effectively
  3. Use GitHub version control
  4. Use pre-made HTML/CSS framework
  5. Set realistic expectations
  6. Do thorough homework
  7. Take breaks
  8. Spend time in creating a demo
  9. Network

To know a little more about each, keep reading...

  • Life Hack 1:

Choose the best team

Attract good talent and form your team with the best people in specialized roles. For example, if you are a back-end engineer and are creating a full-fledged web application prototype that requires a user interface (UI), you must team up with someone who has the right coding skills for the application, preferably a front-end engineer.

  • Life Hack 2:

Distribute tasks effectively

Since a hackathon is a limited-time competition, the work distribution should be effective and even. Everyone in the team should work on tasks that match their expertise. All of them should work in parallel, with few “blockers” in the team.

  • Life Hack 3:

Use GitHub for version control

You can save a lot of pain and frustration by setting up your repository to create the product. This may lead to a significant loss of valuable time and effort.

  • Life Hack 4:

Use pre-made HTML/CSS framework

If the hackathon rules allow, you should be ready with the HTML/CSS framework in advance to save time. This always gives you an edge over the competition in terms of time.

  • Life Hack 5:

Set realistic expectations

In a hackathon, make sure you:

--i) Aim small

--ii) Plan something that you can build in 24 (or 48) hours

--iii) Build a prototype / product that works

--iv) Create something which is demo-able

  • Life Hack 6:

Do thorough homework

Before the hackathon, it is good if you can do the following:

--i) Do extensive research

--ii) Study the related APIs

--iii) Go through the examples

--iv) Understand how different libraries are put together

  • Life Hack 7:

Take breaks

This may sound surprising, but when under pressure, don't just sit in one spot for many hours. Take a small break and walk away from the code. Come back after sometime with a refreshed and re-energized mind.

  • Life Hack 8:

Spend time creating demo

Whatever you create, presentation is as important as any other task. A good presentation is the key to the next level. Spend enough time preparing the presentation.

  • Life Hack 9:


Sponsors, mentors, and fellow developers are great resources. Always make a big impression by good networking! You haven't reached the end of the road with your hackathon; your networking may also help you in future endeavors.

You can try and implement these life hacks by participating in the live Hackathons.

About the Author

Ayush Batra is a product manager at HackerEarth. He works for the growth of Innovation Management product and Hackathon community. You can reach out to him through e-mail at ayush@hackerearth.com and through twitter @ishu_ayush

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