How I won two categories in my first hackathon...

How I won two categories in my first hackathon...

Last weekend I attended my first ever hackathon and won two categories and here’s the story of how I did it!

Finding a hackathon that fits...

When it came to choosing the hackathon I wanted to compete in as my first I looked for a theme that I at least had an idea for. When selecting my first hackathon I chose MLH‘s 'The Hackconomist’ event. The event I selected was based around finance and making a hack to help people with their finances while also learning more about how to better manage your own finances. I chose this hackathon based on the fact I had been recommended to try MLH for hackathons and I really loved the idea of creating something to help others with their finances.

Generating an idea...

In hackathons you get allocated a limited amount of time to produce your hack in, this could be any amount of time and you must usually build the entirety of your hack within that time span. Being as you only get a short amount of time - in my case with The Hackconomist this was 48 hours - you have to be able to generate an idea and create it all within a short space of time!

One thing I missed which was a big setback, to begin with, was that I didn’t think of the option to start creating the project without naming it first until a couple of hours in… Naming a project is always going to be important, but when under time restraints like this, I’ve learned that it’s not a priority.

Once I had an idea and had overcome the idea of prioritising the naming of the project before actually building anything, I finally got started on constructing my project idea.

Generating a project idea was one of the most difficult parts of the whole weekend. You have to think outside the box while also considering what’s realistic to complete in the time provided. Of course, a large team of 4 people have a lot more opportunity to build, name, design, and write up Devpost submissions and balance the load, however, if you choose to work alone as I did, you need to either have lightning-fast type speeds or have a simple enough yet unique idea to really impress the judges!

I was lucky to get an idea almost immediately, but a strong creative mindset is definitely recommended going into an event like this. I came up with the idea of CashHook a webhook network complete to work with all the top creator donation platforms and track creator donations, memberships and orders inside of Discord!

Sample output for Patreon pledges!

Bringing ideas to reality...

Once you have an idea it’s important to get started in as little time as possible. The slightest delay can throw you for the entirety of the event.

When you begin building, start committing to your public repository from minute one. Your public repo is not only proof that the whole project was built within the allocated time for the event but it also helps your team to collaborate on the project while also being able to roll back easily if you reach a difficult bug, saving you valuable time to spend building!

When building your project, spend time learning new things, winning is fun but exploring and learning new technologies is even better. Expanding your stack by investing just a small portion of your weekend into learning something new for your project not only adds to the level of achievement but also prepares you to excel in future events and ultimately leads to a better, more enjoyable time.

When it comes to constructing your project try to connect with the community about it and get the event managers hyped to see your finished product. For starters, by doing this you’ll be able to get more ideas from other people around you, also if you can already set an idea in the community’s minds of what your hack is and what it does, you can confidently expect the judges to better understand you and your hack when they come to judge it.

Share your progress. Keep building. And most importantly, keep updating your Devpost page throughout - leaving it to the last minute makes it rushed meaning you don’t get a chance to make it perfect!

Making a winning submission

You could hack anything over the time of a hackathon but if it’s not simple and user-friendly then the judges will be mind-boggled just trying to work out what they’re judging!

To make a winning submission, sure you need a good hack, and some creativity to make it look good as well as giving it a fun memorable name is always going to be a bonus here, however, your Devpost submission and video are still EXTREMELY important if you’re aiming to win. Devpost will provide subheadings to guide you, USE THEM! The subheadings Devpost provide are curated by hackathon experts who know exactly what hackathon judges want/need to know. If you remove all these subheadings and simply write a wall of text, it’s going to quickly become very difficult for the judge to identify the different key points in your project write-up.

A submission like the one I display on the CashHook Devpost page is perfect, it fully explains the inspiration, functionality, methods used, and so much more that judges want to know!

Start your video/live demo by showing off your project. Jump straight in. Make it clear what your project does. It may seem strange to go straight to the main event in your demo but this is your chance to hook the judges while they’re giving you their full attention. Make your mark in their minds while you can.

What I learned...

From competing in my first hackathon I’ve learned a lot and I hope sharing that with you has helped you to do the same. There are many key points to being successful in these events and these are simply just a few of them. I recommend getting stuck in and taking part in a few hackathons. There’s no need to win every time, hackathons are a chance to build experience, learn new things and meet new people, so attend one or two and see what comes of it!