Have you tried explaining a Hackathon to someone who’s not a developer or a student?
No really, thinking back to my first Hackathon, Hack the North 2017 in the University of Waterloo, I’m not sure how I’d explain it to family and friends.
I was with 1000+ sweaty strangers with their laptops, stuck in the same building on campus, coding straight for 36+ hours without sleep, sustained solely by Soylent and caffeine chocolates. Then we present the abomination of a project we dreamed up to be judged by a panel of professionals to be our first impressions. The best part, we did it voluntarily and thought it was fun.
Hysterical and borderline insane. This is probably how someone outside the development community would see us, if we didn’t provide anymore context.
So what are hackathons really like and why do thousands of developers still flock to them, every year?
Well, here’s the typical experience of every first-time hacker.
It all starts with that fateful moment when you stumble upon a hackathon announcement online. Your eyes light up, your heart races, and you begin fantasizing about the possibilities.
“What if I win a prize? What if my skills are recognized by a sponsor and I receive a job offer? What if I finally get the perfect idea for my startup, and this is my chance to impress investors,” you thought, scrolling through the list of companies sponsoring the hackathon.
Hackathons are a bit like a speed dating show for techies. You're searching for the perfect match to complement your skills and bring your ideas to life. So, you mingle, make small talk, and subtly show off your coding prowess.
Finally, you assemble a team that's a blend of mad scientists, digital wizards, and that one person who takes a nap 12 hours into the hackathon, never to be seen again until 5 minutes before the submission deadline.
Now comes the brainstorming session. A whirlwind of caffeine and adrenaline fueled excitement and an avalanche of ideas. It's a creative explosion of clever solutions to solve the world's most pressing problems.
With each idea, your team becomes more confident and more excited. You begin to actually believe in your ideas and your team’s skill to pull it off. You start wondering why no one has thought of these ideas before, and if they’ll make you the next Elon Musk.
With your collective genius focused on a single goal, you embark on a coding marathon that feels like a high-stakes heist movie. As the clock ticks down, your team deftly navigates a labyrinth of code, design, and countless energy drinks.
While the star programmer of the team pumps out mountains of code, you and friend help your other teammate to setup Git, debug NPM, and complain about his choice to bring a Windows laptop to a hackathon.
You look up, 5 hours left on the clock, reality starts to sink in, and your grand vision crumbles like a cookie under the weight of deadlines. And you begin wondering if your missing teammate, on a hunt for swag and snacks, has fallen asleep on a toilet.
In a matter of minutes, you blitz through the stages of grief. Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depressing, finally accepting your fate, you begin to discuss alternate plans with your team.
You cut features, make sacrifices, fake data, and pick out your favorite powerpoint template. In the end, wrap your Frankenstein's monster of a project in an elegant looking frontend interface, and hide it all behind a confident, charismatic presentation.
With frayed nerves and weary smiles, you stand before the judges to present your project. The room is filled with the collective groans of sleep-deprived brains and the faint smell of coffee.
As you share your team's story and make up answers to questions you have no response, you can't help but feel a sense of pride in your sleep-deprived, caffeine-driven accomplishment.
That sense of pride quickly vanishes as “that one team” team walks in with a fully functioning electro-magnetic scanner that detects cancer and solves global warming at the same time. Hardware and algorithm, developed in under 36 hours.
As the hackathon comes to a close, you part ways with your newfound friends, bonded by shared memories of chaos, laughter, and caffeine-induced hallucinations. You may not have changed the world, but you've emerged as a more resilient, adaptable, and slightly twitchy version of yourself.
You also start considering an alternate career path. There’s no way you’re competing with people from “that one team,” who completed a project you couldn’t finish in 36 months, and somehow had better hair, too.
Nevertheless, you made it, and it’s a moment you’ll never forget.
In person hackathons are stressful. But the Appwrite Hashnode hackathon isn’t. You can sign up today to participate from the comfort of your home, over the internet.
No sweaty gymnasiums, fighting over ethernet ports, sleepless nights, and wondering if the room smells like farts or the pile of takeout someone spilled in the corner.
Join today with your team, for a chance to win up to $5000 USD and limited edition Appwrite swag!