Debunking the hackathon experience

Written by: Sabrina Cao

Free food. Restless engineers. Flashy sponsor booths. Free swag. For all of you who are unfamiliar with the hackathon world, it may seem mysterious, exclusively for software developers, and even intimidating. The inspiration to write this blog came to me after watching an episode of Start-Up, where the main characters attend a hackathon before launching their start-up, Samsan Tech. As with all mainstream media, some parts were realistic whereas others were exaggerated. I am here to help you better understand the hackathon experience by uncovering if some of the most common rumours about hackathons are myth or fact:

  • Hackathons are just about software
  • You need a team to attend a hackathon
  • You will be glued to your laptop 24/7
  • You will not sleep for an entire weekend
  • You need to have a lot of experience to participate
  • Unlimited free food and snacks

💻 Hackathons are just about software

False — There are no restrictions on who can attend a hackathon or what you build! If you are passionate about solving problems using technology, learning new skills, and building exciting projects, then you should attend a hackathon. At Hack the North, we welcome students of all experience levels and backgrounds, whether you are a first-time hacker or an experienced hacker.

In addition, hackathons can involve a plethora of disciplines, including design, hardware, business, and aim to solve a variety of problems such as sustainability, healthcare and cybersecurity. You won’t be hacking into any top-secret databases, but you will be given resources and challenged to solve a complex problem.

You can request hardware parts to build your projects at hackathons!

👋 You need a team to attend a hackathon

False — You can always find a team to work with or hack alone (we encourage finding one, it’s more fun with a team). There are lots of unique and talented individuals at hackathons that you can meet, have a quick chat, and form a team with. Take the time to get to know hackers with similar interests and different skill-sets by reaching out before the event, attending team formation workshops, or visiting team formation Discord/Slack channels.

Not only will you be spending the majority of the hackathon weekend with your team, you will also be able to meet like-minded peers who are equally passionate about technology and building. Attend fun activities such as cup-stacking and late-night karaoke, talk to the hacker in front of you in the food line, join fun Discord channels, or take a stroll around Sponsor Bay — all are great ways to start building lifelong friendships at a hackathon!

👩‍💻 You will be glued to your laptop 24/7

False — There are lots of exciting opportunities at hackathons to tear you away from your laptop, such as intuitive workshops, fun activities, inspirational speakers and flashy sponsor booths. Take a break from your project by checking out what the hackathon has to offer. Many hackathons host panels, meet-ups and tech talks during the event as a break for hackers and also as a way to connect you with the wider tech community.

Hackathons are also a great way to meet company representatives from sponsoring companies, learn about the work that they do, and, of course, grab some free swag. Check out who is going to be at the hackathon beforehand, do your research, and come prepared to meet the sponsors! Hack the North would not be possible without our amazing sponsors, and our hackers manage to storm the Sponsor Bay every year. Check out which sponsors will be attending Hack the North 2020++ here.

Sponsor Bay at Hack the North 2019.

😴 You will not sleep for an entire weekend

False — Although you may not get your full 8-hours, please SLEEP! Hackathons can last between a few hours to even a week. Despite the unlimited coffee supplied, be sure to take the time to rest your brain and recharge your batteries. Many hackathons actually provide sleeping arrangements so you can catch your Zzzzs.

Check out our previous blog post to see how you can maximize your hackathon experience and catch a few naps throughout.

👩‍🎓 You need to have a lot of experience to participate

False — First time at a hackathon? No problem. Hackathons are known to offer resources to help you learn and build your skills within a short amount of time. You can connect with experienced mentors to guide you through your project, attend workshops such as Intro to Android or listen in on panels hosted by industry leaders. There are so many ways to grow at a hackathon. In fact, 30% of hackers at our past events are first time hackers!

Still feel unprepared? You can also attend Gear Up: Presented by Hack the North on January 12th-15th, which is open to the public. In the week leading up to our hackathon, we will be hosting multiple series of workshops, giving you a deep dive into skills, tools and technologies that will make it easy for you to dream big and build! We will also be hosting tech talks, panels, and career sessions to help you navigate the tech industry.

Into to Git Workshop at Hack the North 2019.

🌮 Unlimited free food and snacks

True — But never pizza (find out why in one of our previous blog posts). Although Hack the North 2020++ looks a little different than previous years, we have always fed our hackers with delicious and nutritious meals, midnight snacks, and an unlimited supply of coffee and tea at our in-person event.

Sunday brunch at Hack the North 2019.

I hope this blog has helped debunk some of your misconceptions around hackathons and encouraged you to check out the amazing hackathon community. We know that hackathons look a bit different in 2020, but we are hoping, same as you, that we will get a chance to provide the in-person hackathon experience again in the near-future! In the meantime, dream big and build from wherever you are. We hope to see you soon!

Gear Up is scheduled for January 12–15, 2021⚙️
Hack the North is scheduled for January 15–17, 2021 🎉

3,000+ students from across the globe join us at Hack the North, Canada’s biggest hackathon, for 36 hours ofdreaming big and building incredible projects.