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Hackathons and Students

Posted on Feb 12, 2020 | 6 minutes

Since I went to my first hackathon on Aug 1st at ETHIndia, Bangalore, I loved going to hackathons ever since. I organized about 2 hackathons a year since then. I went to about 6 Hackathons from 2019 to 2020 February. I don’t know why but I just love going to hackathons. The energy you feel at a Hackathon can be found nowhere else.

People usually when speaking of hackathons define them as just a sprint where you solve a problem statement and live on. While this is true, in the case of an enterprise mode event but the word ‘hackathon’ among the student developer community should have a much wider definition. This is quite relative but they all convey the same meaning opposite to what people usually refer to. Joe Nash(@jna_sh) whom I look up to as a mentor and the Guru of Hackathons once told us(Campus Experts) about hackathons that,

" There’s nowhere else in the world you can spend 24 hours in a room full of people who are passionate about what you’ew passionate about, who all want to help each other learn and grow. That’s the story to tell 😍"

That’s the definition I would use. Since this definition gives better insights and expectations to a hackathon and this is what happens at one. This is a gem of a quote I’d say.

Why participate in a hackathon?

Why not participate in a Hackathon?????

Apart from the unlimited(limited) amount of swags you’ll get like stickers, T-shirts, some electronics… Hackathons are another way of enjoying tech as a whole. It encapsulates the meaning of community and technology. From a personal side note on the free stuff, the First Hackathon I went got me about 8 T-shirts, a bag, 2 books and stickers. When I came home, my Dad jokingly said that “you’ll only need a laptop and an internet connection and we wouldn’t need to buy any clothes for you”. This has a wider perspective of thought and this is what the student hackers are becoming too.

In a TED Talk by Dave Fontenot, The Organizer of Mhacks, Michigan he said something similar to the following words. For those who haven’t seen this. This is a must watch.

“Hackathons are like drugs, it gives you an immense amount of concentration and productivity”

This statement is true. To understand that you must attend a hackathon and be part of the community. That’s where the real vibe starts. The real #LIFEHACKER moment begins.

What’s holding you down?

Many people tell me that they think hackathons are for hackers, like the guys who sit in front of their laptops and type something normal people don’t understand and “hack” stuff. This “hacking” is true. But the term “hacking” refers to building something at a hackathon.

“You go to a hackathon and become a Hacker and not the way around”- Dave Fontenot

Then the other type of people is that they think they aren’t qualified enough or doesn’t know enough to go to a hackathon. Frankly speaking, my first hackathon was Ethereum based, nearly half a year from there, I still don’t know what Ethereum is. We made a jugaad and submitted that rather than that I wasn’t interested in Ethereum. But since I got an opportunity, I seized that. See you don’t need to be qualified in anything to go to a hackathon. This is where the inclusivity factor kicks in. Hackers welcome you… No matter who you are.

Best things at a hackathon

  1. Brainstorming:

Wooooooooo, that’s the best thing. That’s where you feel the energy and confidence of your team mates come rushing in. There was this hack called OpenHack which was held in Kochi. The Hack was for making solutions for future floods in Kerala. It was well planned and well funded, the only thing lacking was the idea of what to build. Yeah, the tagline had the idea on what to build but the hackers found it hard to innovate on that. They all used a single API which was written at another hackathon and in the end it broke. So the organizers and volunteers (including me) took on to plan for what will be the future of the whole idea behind the project. That’s when the real energy sparked. The top student developers in all of Kerala, hackers, and engineers came together to make the future of the project better. We discussed from which platform we’ll use for tracking to which CSS framework we’ll use. Man, that was the best thing at that hackathon.

  1. Hacking

Yep, the main part. This is where you become God. You create. You ideate. You build. You become one with your team.

  1. Networking

You’ll make friends. If you’re a sticker encyclopedia (like me), you’ll find more. Once I started a convo with a person by asking him how he got a specific octocat sticker on his laptop. Then me and his team became instant friends. This happens when you relate to their thinking. A guy who loves stickers is a guy who is in the field. He’ll know stuff and he’ll be the best resource person to help you on your build.

  1. Learning

This is the output. Rather than a drowsy head and cursing yourself after on drugs, you won’t get that in this drug. Yes, this drug will make you go get it more often but trust me that is worth the effort. The things you’ll learn will be the best things you’ll learn in your life, the best skills you’ll ever acquire. You’ll learn ’teamwork’.

Students and hackathons

For a student being in college/school and interested in technology, a hackathon is the best place to boost your passion. You can find many people of the same “wavelength”. You can learn a lot from them. They’ll help you a lot. From my personal experience, I went to HackCamp in Kochi both for taking a workshop and hacking. The thing was that I used to know React a few months before. At the time of the hack, React was miles away from my brain. Since I didn’t know much JS, React was coming hard on me. One of my hacker friends Akhil Mohan from RIT and Mohit Rajan from FISAT helped me so much on my project. I knew Akhil from another hackathon and I met Mohit just there. The learning experience I got was out of the world. I kinda learned so much of React, Wikipedia, and Torrents. This is only a kind of a sample of the learning experiences at a Hackathon.

I reckon that students will learn more in hackathons than they learn in college/school. This is my personal opinion so, you have all the power to take it as it is or drop it. This improved self-learning capability is the best thing they’ll be acquiring since this will be integral in their Future Endeavours.

The state of hackathons in Kerala, India

Kerala is a small state in India. It has a rich student developer community and I’m proud to say that I’m a part of it. The thing is that most of the hackathons I’ve gone to have an underdeveloped way of judging. This was a serious case and many hackers in my circle have stopped coming for hacks in Kerala due to this drawback. My point is that student hackathons should never be for starting a business or for starting a startup. It is organized by the community for the experience and the fun. I’ve seen hackers getting disappointed when the judges say dumb things like “This business model is not good” or “Why did you build something that’s already in the market?”. I’ve seen judges giving first prizes to a shitty waste management systems. Damn, I could write that in half a day with my teammates. Where is the innovation in that I would ask? At a hackathon, we got judged for our translation model that Google has better models than us and we 5 won’t be able to complete that even if we sat for a 100 years working for that. Yeah, the judges may have 3x102 years of experience but what’s the point if they can’t understand the idea of a student hackathon.

For me, this is the first evil that I say to the organizers of a hackathon I’m asked to help. But every once in a while some good hackathons come too in Kerala. This might be a small one but it’ll be the best ones. I’ve been proven right multiple times. Most colleges don’t have a standalone hackathon in their colleges. They’ll be part of their technical fest. Only a handful in my knowledge does standalone hackathons here.

My say on hackathons

The best way to hack your tech life is to get to a hackathon. Be a part of that culture and the community. Give feedback on where the organizers or your teammates should improve.

“How much steep the learning curve be, you can always go beyond that and make that a straight line”