Hey, folks. I have experience participating in hackathons and being a mentor at such events. Back in 2019, I attended SmallBizHack by Intuit in London. This was an amazing event with more than 100 attendees. With this article, I wanted to share my experience, talk about my insights, and hopefully motivate you to attend hackathons in the future.
1. You improve your soft skills, quickly
If I’m honest, the main challenge of this hackathon for me was not related to engineering: it was about building a team. This required a lot of communication with many people at the event, while trying to build relationships and trust quickly. I managed to organize a team of 4 people. With each team member being from a different country (Kazakhstan, Ukraine, India, Turkey), I had a chance to improve my intercultural communication skills on top of learning more about managing a team in an intense and fast moving environment of a hackathon.
It was a great opportunity for me to become better at listening to others, giving feedback, and accepting criticism. I feel like this experience made me a better leader.
2. You learn to brainstorm and make better product decisions
I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to build during the hackathon. A day before the event, I started brainstorming and decided it should be something for the hiring process. I then spent the first day of the hackathon refining product ideas with my team, starting with the problem definition and finishing with potential impact and benefits for our future clients.
The final product vision was to create a platform that would automate and improve the hiring experience for companies and candidates. With a single platform, candidates would go through the entire interview process and eventually even be able to accept their job offer via our platform. From the company's side, they can build out interview stages with initial screen calls, quizzes, tasks, and scheduling face-to-face interviews. Moreover, this platform would contain a lot of templates for building interview stages and automation processes to analyze CVs, collect candidate progress and build leader boards with candidates with the best results.
As you can see, we came up with an interesting product to solve important hiring problems.
A hackathon can teach you a lot about the product development process, just within the space of a few days.
3. You get exposed to new technologies
One of the conditions of the event was to use QuickBooks API and Clarifai API or Vonage API (formerly, Nexmo) to be able to win partner nomination. We were using all of the three APIs in our MVP. For example, we were using Nexmo to perform phone and video calls for interviews.
One of the exciting features was to perform an initial screening phone call using Nexmo API, and have a bot ask all the screening questions. Then the recording with answers was sent to Clarify API to analyze the interview result. It is quite a new experience to be interviewed by a bot, but we will probably see something similar in the future.
Moreover, we were using Quickbooks API as an accounting solution for our platform.
I had not used any of these three technologies before the event, so I enjoyed exploring them and learnt quite a lot! Representatives from each company were there to support us and help us master the APIs quickly, which was another benefit of the hackathon.
A hackathon can be a great excuse to play with cool and exciting tech that you aren’t exposed to in your everyday work life.
4. You meet new people in the industry
Like with all public events, a hackathon is a great way to expand your professional network. I met many professionals from different business areas. It was exciting to speak with CEOs, software engineers, designers, and learn from them. I cherish the relationships I built during the hackathon, and look forward to expanding my network even further during future events.
5. You (might) win
I’m not going to lie: it feels nice to win! I was so happy when my team became the Nexmo (now called Vonage) winning team.
Winning at this hackathon was an important milestone for me professionally and I became even more motivated to improve my skills as a software engineer and a leader and keep working towards my dreams.
By the way, you can also expect to win really amazing prizes at most hackathons (it can be money, tech gadgets, etc.). Moreover, I won a gadget just by taking part in a survey. There are plenty of opportunities to win prizes and cool swag at a hackathon. 😉
Learning from my experience, you can see that attending a hackathon is a powerful way to improve professional skills, build your career and expand your network. If you have never taken part in a hackathon, I hope this article convinces you to give it a try.