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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Toronto chapter.

Edited by Olivia Spahn-Vieira  

Hackathons are a weekend packed with coding, workshops and caffeine. Yet, many people don’t know what hackathons are, or believe that only people who code can attend them. With nearly all events going online, it is no surprise that hackathon organizers have changed their plans and set up these events through zoom calls and slack servers.

What is a hackathon?

According to Wikipedia, a hackathon is a sprint-like design event, in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, domain experts, and others, collaborate intensively on software projects. Hackathons are places of innovation where young adults from across the world come together to create technological products that help people improve people’s lives or help solve the world’s problems. They are also places for people new to the software industry to decide if this is the right place for them, as it gives them an insight into the creation of products and real-world application of the skills they would have learnt.

Myth-busting time!

Only people who know to code go to hackathons.

This is false! Each team needs people with business acumen, design know-how and strong presentation skills. Hackathons are more than coding a product. You will be pitching your product with a business plan, have a marketing strategy, unique logo and design. Just knowing how to code helps in one aspect of the overall product development. There is also a lot of research involved in ensuring your product helps people and is not redundant.

I’m a beginner at coding!

You can always follow a YouTube tutorial and ask a mentor for help if you’re stuck. There is a lot of beginner only hackathons or ones with beginner tracks that have guided workshops. You could also take up the no-code tasks on your team and build experience. With the number of programming languages that exist today, it is impossible to be fluent in all, so everyone is a beginner at something.

People don’t sleep!

This myth is partially true! Some teams create insane products without sleeping for 36 hours, or barely sleeping. But, it’s always up to you. You can tell your teammates your boundaries. You can also decide to attend the hackathon’s workshops without submitting a product.

Tips to help you thrive in hackathons

  1. Do not sacrifice your sleep and try to code for the whole 24 or 36 hours! That is not the point of the event. Go to workshops, network with people and have fun! Who knows; you may even land your next internship offer by talking to a recruiter at a hackathon.
  2. Talk to your teammates. A downside of the virtual world is you can’t see your teammates, but you can and should still interact and communicate. Communicate your expectations of the event beforehand and tell them that you’ll be going to workshops and sleeping. Your teammates will appreciate this, or you will need to find new teammates.
  3. Get snacks and meal-prep before the weekend. These events are tiring. You’ll probably be in front of a computer for most of the day, so take some time during the week to meal-prep or have pre-cooked meals stored in your refrigerator to heat up over the hacking period. You are doing them from home, so you can always find healthier options than pizza!
  4. Take the Sunday/Monday off! You will be exhausted after putting yourself through a hackathon. So take the Sunday or Monday off if you can, and step away from all your screens. Go on a walk, paint or read a book! You need to rest after such an intense work period.
  5. Learn a new language or skill! Nearly all hackathons have workshops to teach you a new skill or have mentors and resources on hand to help you learn. Look through their schedule and pick a workshop to attend! These events are there to help you learn practical skills that are not explicitly taught in courses.
  6. Do no-code tasks! Try your hand at creating a business plan or a pitch deck. Maybe you are more creative and can design a beautiful product prototype or logo! If you’re studying Computer Science, you spend most of your week coding. So take time to learn the other skills needed to succeed in the industry.
  7. Ask a mentor! They are all people who’ve been to hackathons before, have had tech internships or even work in a company you want to join. Talk to them, ask questions related to their expertise or about their work. It’s always better to ask for help than to stress over something you can’t figure out. These people have taken time over their weekend to help you, so drop by the discord/slack channels and say hi to them!

P.S., if these haven’t convinced you to attend one and have fun, this should – Hackathons on a resume are a serious boost. Recruiters look for them if you don’t have work experience.

Rue Sriharsha is a first-year undergraduate at Woodsworth College, University of Toronto. She is hoping to pursue a double major in Cognitive Science and Computer Science with a minor in Writing and Rhetoric. She is also the First-year Outreach member for UofT Women in Computer Science (WiCS) When she's not coding away, she enjoys writing poems and photography. Her passions include wellness, technology and lifestyle blogging.