How to prepare for your first hackathon

Wondering how to prepare for your first hackathon? Whether you’re a programmer, marketer, or just a tech enthusiast, experiencing a hackathon is an amazing experience to have under your belt. Plus, they’re tons of fun!

Here are our 6 tips for preparing for your first hackathon:

1. Know what you want to accomplish and why

This applies to more than just hackathons – before starting anything, it’s important to set goals for yourself. Spend some time thinking about why you want to participate. Are you trying to learn a new skill? Code something for your portfolio? Build an app with an API you’ve never worked with before? Network for job opportunities? Know why you’re there and be explicit about those goals so you can achieve them.

2. Research the topic and theme before going

Most likely, there will be some topic or theme set for the hackathon. For example, the topic may be music-related or sponsored by a certain company. If your goal is to win, do your research. Brainstorm relevant app or program ideas ahead of time. Study the sponsoring company’s API and come prepared with a scaffold already coded that you can adjust on the fly.

3. Assemble your squad

Once you’ve set a goal and done your research, the next step is to build a team! If you can go into the hackathon with a group of people you like and know you work well with, that chemistry will give you an edge over other teams meeting each other for the first time.

4. Hype people up

Possessing the technical capabilities to build a product is only half the battle to winning a hackathon. If you’re attending a hackathon as a non-technical person, your energy and enthusiasm is the fuel driving the team throughout the 24-48 hours. Plus, the presentation at the end is crucial to your score – if you can’t get the team excited about your idea, you can’t expect to get the judges excited. So, in short – get pumped!

5. Be prepared

Don’t be the schmuck that doesn’t bring a laptop. Make a list of everything you’ll need, including travel tickets, hotel reservations, your laptop charger, headphones, or extra USB cables. Bring snacks. Get a good night’s sleep. You’ll want to be firing on all four cylinders on hackathon day, so do whatever you have to do to be prepared.

6. Don’t be a jerk

Teams win hackathons – not individuals. You’ll be working very closely with these people for several hours, so it’s important to be someone that people actually want to work with. Be respectful to others, even if you disagree with their ideas. No matter how much you want to win, make sure you’re considerate of your teammates. Remember, it’s just a hackathon – it’s not life or death. Enjoy the challenge and have fun!

Yes, it takes a lot of work to win a hackathon, but you shouldn’t be scared or intimidated by joining if you’re a newbie. As long as you come prepared and remember to have fun, you can’t go wrong. Hack away!


Ready to take your coding skills to the next level? Check out Hack Reactor’s online coding bootcamps for people who want to get started in a career in software engineering.

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