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Hackathons - An ex-hackathon student's perspective

To start with, what is a hackathon?

A hackathon is usually a programming event, where the participants are given a set time to develop something from scratch, after which they demo it to the rest of the participants and a panel of judges. The categories of the judging are usually set by the event organisers and/or the various sponsors that make the event possible. Depending on the hackathon there may be prizes, again chosen by the event organisers and the sponsors. 


Why do people go to hackathons?

There are various types of hackathons, the ones I've been to have all be student-based hackathons. These are great opportunities for networking, and testing your skills. You're able to meet other students from different universities and get a new perspective on the work you're doing. Maybe they were taught a different language and you can pick some of that up from them, or they use different IDE's or toolsets. Either way, it's a great opportunity to make new connections, and it's not just connections to students as they'll meet sponsors and industry insiders who are there to help. It's a great opportunity to meet the sponsors and show them what you can do. There is also the bonus for students in that most hackathons are free to attend, and usually provide free meals for the duration of the event, which for a student on a shoestring is ideal.

As a student, it's invaluable to meet companies and get commercial insights.  A lot of my fellow students chose to work for organisations that they met and had a positive experience with, from Hackathons.


Why do companies sponsor hackathons?

For the sponsors, it's also a great opportunity for networking, both with the other sponsors where connections can be made and possible business conversations can be started. It's also an excellent time to scout for talent, someone that may show promise could be a great future employee. You have the time to see what they can do under time pressure, and can meet and get to know them and their personality too. As sponsors, you may also have the choice to set a challenge to the attendees this allows you to test a specific talent or to see what amount of creativity they have. 


What hackathons have I attended?

  • I was an organiser of the first AstonHack back in 2015.
  • I was a participant in the 2016 AstonHack where a group of friends and I made a VR game in the unreal engine. 
  • I was a participant of Hacktoberfest Birmingham 2016.
  • I was a participant of the 2017 junction hack in Helsinki.
  • I was part of the Code Wizards sponsor team at the 2017 AstonHack.
  • I was a participant of Anvilhack III in 2017.
  • I will be attending as part of the Code Wizards sponsor team for the 2019 AstonHack.

 So.. What makes a good hackathon?

To me, a good hackathon is an opportunity to have fun with my friends, meet some new people and practice my trade. I enjoy the timed format as it gives a little pressure, and the freeform tasks promote our creative sides. My friends and I have different skillsets, so it's a great opportunity to show each other just how good we are at what we do, as well as the chance to pick bits up from each other to use for ourselves. The prizes and connections are great and all but if a hackathon isn't fun, then to me, you've missed a trick.

About the author

Gareth Sheppard

Gareth Sheppard

Software Engineer and resident game engine integrator (Unreal UE4 and Unity)

Interests: Gaming, Gaming tech, Custom PC's, VR, AR, Hackathons.

If there's a way I can break a game I'll do my best to make sure it's spectacular.

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