Uplifting Developer Communities With Hackathons

Why we need more hackathons in our tech communities today

Aditya Oberai
Jan 5 · 8 min read

Throughout my experiences in the tech community, one of the spaces where I have actively contributed over the last few years: hackathons. Hackathons have had a huge impact on my student career so far. It is one of the few spaces that I genuinely love, and I will discuss why we need more hackathons in our tech communities in this article.

But before we go any further, let’s first understand what a hackathon really is.

What is a Hackathon?

“A hackathon is essentially a development marathon that is designed to push people past the limits of their creativity and knowledge to create innovative products and solutions.”

Source: Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

In the last few years, hackathons have been meccas of innovation for all tech enthusiasts across the globe. And a big reason for that is hackathons allow folks to work on projects close to their hearts. They are opportunities where people can come together, meet with fellow enthusiasts, and collaborate and learn from each other. Having highly accomplished mentors and judges at such occasions makes hackathons some of the largest networking hubs in their local regions. And the pandemic causing these events to shift to a virtual format has truly allowed them to achieve a global scale at a rapid pace.

The growth of the number of hackathons being organized during the pandemic is not without reason. Hackathons have had an immense impact on the participants (colloquially known as hackers) in various ways which I will discuss next.

How do hackathons impact communities?

Source: William White on Unsplash

There are certain characteristics of hackathons that generate an impact on communities and their members. These characteristics are as follows:

• Hackathons are inclusive for all

In a hackathon, every hacker receives an equal opportunity to compete for the final prize. No hacker is discriminated based on their personal traits or professional background. What this results in is the development of a meritocratic environment where the quality of work is the deciding factor, thus removing personal biases from the equation. This does create a healthy and safe environment for everyone joining the hackathon.

• Hackathons bring the community members closer

Hackathons see large numbers of participants come together in one place, be it physically or virtually, to develop solutions to common problems. Even if it may be to compete with each other, working together in one location does allow people to interact with and learn from each other and develop a sense of respect for one another. This does enable all hackers to build and maintain better relations with their fellow participants.

Source: Mimi Thian on Unsplash

• Hackathons focus on educating the community

A major aspect of hackathons is pushing the limits of our knowledge. As hackers work harder to create new solutions, they often end up hitting their own knowledge gaps. This allows hackers to grow beyond their existing boundaries of knowledge. Quite a few hackathons are also focused on introducing certain technologies to developers in recent times. This has made educating participants one of the largest aspects of a hackathon.

• Hackathons drive creativity and innovation within the community

Hackathons do bring with them certain general themes and problems, but they (mostly) do not restrict hackers to specific projects or methodologies. Hackathons do allow creative freedom to enable hackers to innovate and develop amazing new projects and solutions. The growth of some of these projects does not stop at the hackathons, which has resulted in us seeing some truly amazing products like Zapier, EasyTaxi, Carousell, and many more, which have impacted the world for the better (and gone on to raise millions of dollars as well).

Source: Austin Distel on Unsplash

• Hackathons encourage a growth mindset

It is crucial to understand that while winning a prize at a hackathon feels great, a prize is not the greatest thing a hacker takes back. A hackathon, ideally, pushes hackers past their limits of knowledge and creativity. Not only that, but hackathons also allow every hacker to network and develop relations going far beyond the hackathons. The one constant fact for every hacker in every hackathon is that whether they win or lose, their knowledge base and experience level always increases. Hackathons do enable folks to have this realization and thus orient their mindset towards achieving growth.

• Hackathons empower the community to create social impact

One thing that hackathons have always successfully done is to bring people together to try to solve problems affecting society at large. Be it in domains such as health-tech, ed-tech, remote work productivity, or any other domain, whenever we, as a society, have faced problems at large, this has reflected in the hackathon space. Even as we saw the COVID-19 pandemic initiate, there was a huge surge of hackathons dedicated to increasing awareness around the virus, helping people care better for themselves, and assisting remote work and learning. This was genuinely a beautiful phenomenon that has time and again been achieved by hackathon organizers around the world.

Source: Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

• Hackathons give the members a platform to express

Hackathons do allow every participant to take the stage and share their ideas and perspectives with the entire audience. This is a crucial point because so many of us often have our voices suppressed in life, be it due to the people around us, the culture and society we’re a part of, or for any other reason. Hackathons do allow all hackers the freedom to breathe free and share what they want.

But most importantly…

• Hackathons are just a ton of fun!

This is my personal favourite reason to stay active in the hackathon space as well! In hackathons, we see lots of like-minded individuals come together to create and build solutions in whatever way they want to. If we think about it, we barely get the opportunities to do things we want to in just the way we want to anymore. In the hustle and bustle of life, we often succumb to the pressures of our choices and circumstances. But for a hacker, that specified duration of a hackathon is time just for themselves and no one else. Another plus to that is that since there are so many like-minded people, hackathons do lead to some absolutely amazing friendships as well. These factors do make hackathons very pure and enjoyable experiences for everyone involved in them.

Source: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

These are the characteristics of hackathons that do impact communities immensely. They can also be kept in mind as guidelines for new organizers who are just getting started in the hackathon space. But if you do not have any previous experiences with hackathons, do to continue reading to see how you can get involved.

How can you get involved?

Source: John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Lots of times people want to take the experience of hackathons to their communities but are afraid to due to lack of experience in the space. There is a path that I recommend following here so that you can best create such experiences for your fellow community members too:

Step 1: Participate in Hackathons

The first thing to do is to join a few hackathons and build some projects. Doing so will allow you to understand a hacker’s perspective during the event and experiencing all aspects yourself. In case you would like some guidelines for participating, do view the hackathon to-dos mentioned here.

Step 2: Mentor at Hackathons

Once you are comfortable with the format and experience of hackathons, join hackathons as a mentor and speaker to share your knowledge and guide your peers. This will help you to become more comfortable working with larger groups while allowing you to see an organizer’s perspective more closely.

Step 3: Organize Hackathons

After you’ve both participated and mentored at a few hackathons, you should have a fundamental understanding of how hackathons function overall. So do go ahead and organize a hackathon for the communities you’re actively involved in. You do not need to start with a grand event for thousands of hackers. Take small steps, organize smaller activities, and then scale to conducting larger events.

The path to get involved in hackathons

There are various platforms that have focused on supporting and growing the hackathon space in recent times. You can visit these platforms to get your start in the domain as well:

Conclusion

These are some of the insights I have had from my experiences of organizing and leading hackathons over the last few years. Organizing hackathons has in itself been an amazing experience. However, the ability to play a part in the growth of your fellow community members is even more exciting than that. I sincerely hope that these insights will encourage you to get more active in the hackathon space and impact your communities. If you believe any of these points can be modified or improved or any new point can be added here, do mention them in the responses below.

Thank you so much for reading and hope you have a great day :)

Bonus Content: HackOn 2.0

One of the initiatives that I have been working on recently is the HackOn Hackathon.

HackOn 2.0

HackOn is a global digital hackathon that is organized by hackers for hackers to bring their ideas from the point of inception to reality. In its second edition this year, we are focusing on generating more awareness of mental health as well as encouraging diversity and inclusion in our society. Join us in this endeavour by registering at our hackon.hackerearth.com.

Keep learning, building, sharing, and happy hacking!

HackOn Foundation

Hackathon Community!

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