Lessons learned from judging a hackathon

Last March 2017 I was invited to judge a hackathon. For those who don’t know what a hackathon is, below is the definition from Wikipedia.

A design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, and others, often including subject-matter-experts, collaborate intensively on software projects.

A short intro about myself- I test and analyze apps professionally. I love lattes and IPAs. I grew up in Manila but I currently reside in Cebu. I am active in the local tech community especially in Software Testing Philippines and Product PH. Come join us and say hello.

I got the invite from the founder of Snapzio, a software development company in Cebu City, Philippines. I met him at a Software Testing meetup. During the meetup, we got to chat and shared ideas on software testing. We exchanged contact details and kept in touch.

One day I received a text from him and he was inviting me to judge a hackathon. During that moment I was surprised and didn’t know how to react. It was my first time judging a hackathon so I wasn’t sure. But then I said to myself, what the heck? I’ll do it. This will be an awesome experience.

The hackathon was organized and co-sponsored by Snapzio. The hackathon was held in iiOffice, a co-working space in Cebu. They were also the co-sponsor. The participation fee was 100 PHP (2 USD) and comes with a t-shirt and sticker. The grand winner will receive 7000 PHP (140 USD)in cash.

The hackathon is a 24 hour (2 day) event from Friday evening to Saturday evening. There will be two categories- mobile app and web app.

The event came and the turnout was great! There were more than 20 teams. The diversity was interesting. There were students, professionals and foreigners who participated.

Participants mingling. Photo by Karlo Abapo

The rules were simple.

  1. There will be 2 grand winners- One for mobile app and one for web app.
  2. There will be a challenge for each category. The challenges were submitted by the participants themselves upon registration. The organizers will pick a challenge from the lot. One for mobile app and one for web app.
  3. The teams must submit their apps to the judges on time otherwise they will be disqualified.
  4. The teams will demo the app and the judges will evaluate and score them.
  5. The criteria for judging is based on functionality, design, creativity and execution. The score will be averaged among judges and the winners will be announced after everyone has presented.

Judgement Day. Photo By Alieth Bontuyan

The next night, judgment day came. The teams were called one by one to present to the judges. Mobile teams went first then next were the Web teams.

Looking back at the judging experience, these are what I learned.

1. Judging is not easy.

Staying objective is tough. There are times that you will doubt yourself. Like am I being fair, too nice or harsh? At the end of the day, know what to look for and be clear on that.

2. Judging can be tiring.

We judged 20 plus teams and each team we had to interview and deliberate. After the event, our energy levels plummeted. We should have taken breaks and included that in the plan.

3. Be prepared to be disappointed or blown away.

Due to the diversity of participants the ideas and products presented can range from all right to down right cool.

  • There were creative ideas but had no execution.
  • There were products that were extremely similar but competed in functionality, design and execution.
  • There were products that were executed similarly but competed in functionality, design and creativity.
  • There were products that were functional, creative but lacked in execution.
  • There were products that were functional, creative and did well in execution.

The noteworthy ones were the teams who exceeded expectations. They did things that were more than required. An example was a mobile app team who also build a web app to create an end to end platform. Another was a web team which built a feature set for the user instead of just one feature. There was also another team which applied their UX design skills to the max by applying animation and gamification.

4. The people building the product matters.

The experience, creativity and execution of the builders are the key factors for success. These factors set apart competing teams.

The ones who did well had a clear well thought out plan for execution. They were calm under pressure and they were having fun.

5. An idea is just an idea. A shipped, well executed and useful product deserves to win.

A pitch is worth nothing. A half-baked product is worthless. An unreliable product is not trustworthy. Give users products that matter and love. I am sure everyone will win.


This section is dedicated to the winners, organizers and sponsors. Congratulations for the awesome event!

Pizza Party! Photo by Alieth Bontuyan

Soundtrack at the moment: Avicii- Levels

If you like this post. Please like, comment and share. I love to know your thoughts.