Today we live in the software era, where the deployed software is playing a major role in almost every aspect of the society. As Steve Jobs said in his legendary 1995 interview with Robert Cringely, also known as "The Lost Interview":
There hasn't really been a revolution in how we created software, at least not in the last 20 years. But, software is infiltrating everything we do these days. Software is going to be a major enabler in our society
Steve Jobs --- The Lost Interview 1995
, the software totally revolutionized the way of living, from small, but very useful mobile apps to self-driving vehicles very soon. I am not saying this in order to reinvent the wheel but to shed a light on why the seemingly useless Hackathons are important and why do I love them and everyone should do.
If you turn around, especially if you are in the IT segment, you will notice that there is an enormous number of organized Hackathons around the globe. Even though the Hackathons may have different nature, I will address only software or software-related Hackathons. First, let me explain what is a Hackathon, for those who don't know. The word Hackathon is coined from two words: hack, which means implementing something clever that is simple enough, but not simplest and marathon, i.e. to implement that in one shot, usually short enough to make you work all the time. They are a trade-off between your free time and your dreams. Although, most people will say that, everything developed during the Hackathons is just a piece of prototyping crap, which to some extent is true, there are several reasons, that I would like to share why they are such great events.
Work on what you really love and matters for you
Sometimes we have a project idea in mind, that would really like to work on, but due to the everyday strict agenda, we are not able at least to make a prototype. Therefore, the Hackathons are perfect places to boost your motivation to work as well as to find enthusiasts with similar ideas. Inspired by the working atmosphere and the competitive spirit of the event you will find a way to realize your project. Moreover, you will learn how to work under time constraint pressure.
However, before doing anything and spend much of your time, it is always a good practice to know whether your idea will work or not. For this reason, the Hackathons are great events to share your idea and get immediate feedback on whether your idea rocks or it is just a waste of time and to pass to your next idea.
In case you get a positive and encouraging feedback, even not at Hackathon, of course, you will not jump directly to implement a super complex, complete and all-features-included system. Usually, first you will try to monkey patch some existing code and play around in order to build a dumb and yet, limited, but a working prototype. It can serve to measure the user feedback or just as a proof of a concept.
Finally, your work there will be publicly available, so you can include it in your portfolio. That can serve to show you passion and commitment to pursue your ideas or it could be an easier way to convey your ideas to someone else.
In fact, it is not everything about developing technical abilities, more often it is about soft skills. As usual, there are two sides in the Hackathons, on one side there are the participants, eager to work and on the other side, there are the sponsor companies that support the participants with different tools, gadgets, datasets, etc. Hence, this is one wonderful opportunity to sell yourself, to connect with the company representatives as well as with your peers and to hear what is trendy at the moment. Additionally, you will inform yourself about the state of the existing technology at that particular moment. Last but not the least, maybe you will land your dream job afterward.
I would like to elaborate more on the networking part. There are two types of connections you can build during a Hackathon: connections with the company representatives and connections with your peers. Both are equally important, trust me!
The connections with the company representatives are important because you can use them as an anchor in the near future if you are looking for some job opportunities. That means, to carefully chose a list of companies for which you are interested and think if they might provide you with the needed tools and data for the preceding Hackathon. Thus, you can show passion and ask a few profound questions in order to make a good impression which will make you easier to remember. Moreover, if you decide to collaborate with them during the Hackathon, it will be even more impactful.
The connections with your peers are also of high importance. Usually, Hackathons are events where smart and prospective people take part and are pools of talented people. They can be your partners in implementing the common ideas, and of course good friends for life. They can be your referrals to land your dream job and in the same way, you can recommend them.
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It is not a coincidence at all, that so many Hackathons are organized nowadays. They are your chance to pitch your ideas and to enrich your career, to build something smart, to create social goods, to network and collaborate and to have fun. For this reason, I think sometimes it is worth sacrificing your free time and to take part in these unique events.