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12 things to do before your first hackathon

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How do hackathons work? Simple, you come together with a diverse group of people, enjoy some good food, build relationships, and go absolutely hack wild with a team of coders tackling diverse projects. It’s a coding experience unlike anything else, and can be as valuable and empowering as it is exciting. But before you go rushing out the door, take a moment to consider what you need to do to prepare. Whether you’ve been attending hackathons for years or you’re getting ready to participate in your very first one, there are some hackathon ideas that you’ll want to mull over before you arrive. 

Want to know what to bring to a hackathon and how to set yourself up for the best possible experience? Look no further; we asked our team what they thought was most important and here’s what they said:

Hackbright’s essential how-to-prepare-for-a hackathon checklist

  1. Do your research
    Research the topic or theme beforehand so you’re prepared. There’s nothing worse than registering for a hackathon and showing up the day of, only to find out you don’t know how to get started.
  2. Gather your geeks
    This might seem like a no brainer, but it can be hard to build a team. If you’re short on developer friends, check with the hackathon organizers. Often times they’ll have resources for you to connect with other solo developers so you can build your dream team (and meet some cool people).
  3. Remember POWER
    Seriously, don’t forget to charge your laptop and bring any relevant chargers and cords (phone and laptop). Since most hackathons are at least 24 hours long, if not 48, you’ll need to recharge a couple times. Don’t miss out on great opportunities because your computer’s battery runs out.
  4. Understand the rules and ask questions
    Not only should you research the topic ahead of time, make sure you know what you’re getting into! If something is unclear, ask the organizers. A lot of times there will be an info sheet or even an info session ahead of the event to make sure everyone is on the same page. Don’t be the team that breaks the rules and gets disqualified.
  5. Set MVP rules
    And we’re not talking about the most valuable player; work with your team to determine your minimum viable product ASAP. Once you reach your baseline, you can go crazy and add all the enhancements you want.
  6. Don’t stress
    Hackathons are for fun, learning, and networking, not competition. If you finish your hack, great! If not, it’s not the end of the world. You still accomplished something. Celebrate your wins!
  7. NETWORK
    Build in some time networking, either in the form of teaching others or learning from others. This is one of the best parts about hackathons. If you come in with experience, offer to pair program with other people with less experience so that they can get something out of it. If you come in with less experience and are hoping to learn, don’t be afraid to ask to be involved in the parts that you want to learn more about. The idea here is growth, for you and for everyone else.
  8. Take breaks (or naps,) often
    Hackathons are a marathon, not a sprint. Feel free to take breaks so you can recharge and come back to your hack with fresh eyes. (Hint: maybe do a little networking when you take a break?)
  9. Be sure to set realistic goals
    Leave enough time for yourself and your team and set realistic goals. Similar to determining your MVP, make sure that you set a goal that can be accomplished. You don’t have to win every hackathon, but it’s nice to be able to present something you can be proud of for judging.
  10. Set up a GitHub
    Duh.
  11. Bring SNACKS
    Most hackathons will provide food, but let’s be honest, pizza and cookies aren’t necessarily super foods. Pack a stash of brain food that will help keep you sharp. Don’t code hangry.
  12. Pre-install your dev environment
    Set up your development environment on your laptop in advance. Make sure you’re ready to hit the ground running. The last thing you want is to spend all your time installing things at a hackathon because you won’t have time to actually build anything. (True story: this has happened to one of our instructors. Learn from her experience!)

Have fun!

Do we really need to say it? We’ll say it again anyway – hackathons are fun! You get the opportunity to meet new people, explore ideas, expand your network, learn / teach fellow developers, and build something cool. What’s not to like about that?


Interested in learning to code? Check out our upcoming Prep Course and our immersive 12-week full-time or 24-week part-time Software Engineering Programs.

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