Picking the right hackathon

How to find a good hackathon fit

As a Developer Advocate for Mashape, I get to attend, join, sponsor, and judge developer hackathons. One after another, I’ve seen great teams lose to equally awesome teams. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I know that we run these contests to pick the best of the best. But sometimes, it’s difficult to draw the line. How many times have you told yourself, “That other team was obviously better than the winner.”

There’s another way of saying this — “Hey they could have won in that other hackathon!”

Is this hackathon for you?

I think as developers, we have the responsibility to carefully pick the hackathons we decide to participate in. I prefer to think of a hackathon as a 100-meter dash where runners are all blindfolded — no one knows when or where the other guy started. And judges are ruthless pricks who assume you all started on the same line. (Just kidding).

Ask these questions:

  • Who are the judges attending this hackathon?
  • Who are the judges attending this hackathon? (For the 2nd time. You really need to know this because…)
  • Is our hack going to be judged based on revenue potential? Market feasibility? (I like to call these “serious” hackathons)
  • How much weight are the judges going to put on ingenuity, creativity, craziness, etc. (“fun” hackathons)
  • Are they on the lookout for too-polished-it-can’t-have-been-started-from-scratch-24-hours-ago hacks?
  • What is the organizer’s stance on re-hashed/re-branded/recycled apps?
  • Are participants allowed to report re-hashed hacks right after demo? And who do we report to?
  • What are the relationships between the hackathon organizer and sponsors? Which one invited the judges? Who has the last say on things if an issue arises? e.g. Team member was coding from India (hackathon is in San Francisco), are they still eligible to compete?
  • What’s the ratio of developer judges to non-developer judges?
  • What’s the objective of the sponsor? Find more bugs? Revenue-generating features? Generate social media buzz? (Does he even know?)
  • Aside from the main prize, are there other prizes worth pursuing? Sponsor prizes? Swags?
  • If it’s a mobile/tablet hackathon, will they provide test devices? (You’re automatically wasting your time if you don’t have a device and they don’t provide one)
  • If I lose interest before the hackathon finishes, what else will keep me there? (bottomless iced tea? meet dev celebrities? meet girls?)

I’m keen to hear more guide questions to steer us to the right hackathon. Email me at chris [dot] ismael [at] gmail.com

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