Hackathon 101: Your basic survival & enjoyment guide

Santosh Panda
8 min readFeb 15, 2016

Attention all programmers! This is your chance to write code to your heart’s content, discuss things like Java and C++ without drawing blank faces all around, and crack up at jokes like this.

Hackathons are the crowning glory of the world of programming. It could simply be a day dedicated to writing code, or perhaps it goes on for a few days; programmers become the modern-day gladiators battling each other virtually for glory in the colosseum that is your programming platform.

We’re kidding! Hackathons aren’t all about competitiveness and winning. Don’t let us freak you out. In fact, these events are usually participated in by the most enthusiastic of tech people.

Hackathons are simply an opportunity for learning, meeting new people, and doing what you enjoy best. These events are a lot of fun, the air is crackling with positive energy and excitement and the idea of designing programmes and defeating error messages is enough to keep you going for 24 hours straight.

All the same, the thought of attending a hackathon can be daunting for some, mostly if it’s going to be your first time at one as you’re not sure what to expect or how to behave.

Everyone could do with a helping hand, which is why we’ve got together advice from a whole bunch of experts to make your experience of a hackathon a transcendental one!


image courtesy: yourstory

There are different types of hackathons being organised, all with different purposes attached to them.
Some of them are:

  • Software Development: Build something new or take an existing product to a different level.
  • Industry Innovation: Solve business problems by promoting or developing something new.
  • Civic: These intend to bring about change to social problems and hope to do that through softwares.
  • Platform-Based: Test the usability of platforms and tweak it to the point of increasing adoption.
  • Recruiting: Some companies also organise hackathons in a bid to acquire talent. These of course are more competitive but also brings about a talent pool.

So before attending a hackathon, understand what the nature of it is going to be. This is only so you can prep in accordance.


This is something we learned from Soumya at HackerEarth. Each hackathon will also come with a specific theme and knowing that in advance is critical. Because if your amazing idea is not in sync with the requirement of the hackathon then you’re missing out anyway.


It really all comes down to the basics. You can’t be presenting your spanking new kickass programme and then have the judge point out a violation in rules.

Read all the literature that is provided with regard to the hackathon and if you’re part of a team, get all your team members to do so as well. Keep a special eye out for anything that can possibly get you disqualified and give those a wide berth.


This isn’t really something you have to do but something you might want to do. If you’re a coding newbie it isn’t going to hurt to brush up on these things.

And you wouldn’t believe the number of tutorials that are easily available out there. Here are just a few you can begin with.


Do you know the dates of the event? Where it’s supposed to take place? Do you need to travel out of town in order to attend the hackathon? If so, have you booked your travel and hotel tickets? What about packing a bag?

Yes, all these also factor in your preparation. It would be a shame to miss the hackathon you had so excitedly been gunning for if at the last minute you find there are no tickets available for your travel. Or worse, the tickets cost way too much.

Trivial as it may seem, it also makes a lot of sense to do note down the things you need with you so that at the venue you’re not scrambling for something important…like your laptop charger.

These things should also go on your checklist —

  • Laptop & phone chargers
  • Ear/ headphones (the venues can get noisy)
  • Any additional paraphernalia to help with your work
  • Snacks (they’re going to be provided there but this makes sense if you’re particular about what you eat)
  • Change of clothes (after 18 hours in front of your system, sometime in the wee hours of the morning, getting into clothes that are clean and fresh can make you feel the same way)


image courtesy: yourstory

Stockroom Co-Founder, Ashish Kumar says, “Participants need to get proper sleep before coming to the hackathon. They need to be relaxed, since hackathon pumps out a lot of energy from you. Talking about preparation, since the hackathon is more about building stuff and speed coding, you should not reinvent the wheel, instead you should use open sources or existing templates to hack on. Something like hackathon starter can be very useful.”

Bharat Ramakrishna from Venturecity weighs in, “Arrive early to get acquainted with the venue. If it is a team hack, ensure that all members of the team are on the same page. Make sure that everyone is using the same IDE.

Also, an important thing to realise is that time is at a premium at hackathons. So come with all necessary software pre-installed. Also, if the company requires you to use some special APIs or technology, make sure that you are fully versed with their use! It would also be a good idea to hold a brainstorming session with your teammates before the hack itself.”

DoSelect Co-Founder Sanket Saurav says, “Tech focused hackathons don’t really need any preparation — spontaneity is a large part of a successful hackathon entry.

But if you are going to work on something new altogether (like, some new programming language or application framework), then make sure you get comfortable with them well before the hackathon, so you don’t waste any time during the hackathon digging up the docs for trivial things.”


image courtesy: the next web

We’re not saying treat this as just another day in the office (which means no 2-hour lunch breaks), but you also don’t have to be so thoroughly glued to your system that you end up being one of the first to face burnout.

Many people start a game of ‘chug the caffeine’ the moment they get to the venue. You might be at an event that’s going to last long but that doesn’t mean you need to attack the energy drinks with a vengeance right from the start.

Instead of riding an energy rollercoaster, save the caffeine for when you feel yourself lagging. Use it as a pick-me-up and not as a nourishment source.


When it comes to challenges faced by participants, HackerEarth, Stockroomand Venturecity emphasise on one thing; that usually more than can be handled is bitten off by participants and this is something that has to be avoided.

Though 24 hours may seem like a long time, if your time isn’t allotted sensibly to different aspects of the programmer, you’re going to end up in a rut.

Another thing participants often overlook is to account for the time that will be spent fixing all the things that constantly go wrong.

The key here is to focus on a couple of workflows in the hack and resist the urge to build on everything you think of.

“Decide on the topic you want to work on. This is where pre-event prep helps. It also helps to have a brainstorming session at the start of the hacknight. As a rule of thumb, the best hacknights are where the challenges are focussed and outcomes are well-defined.” — Zainab, HasGeek


image courtesy: ac3hacker

The relevance of mentors at a hackathon is reiterated by Biplab Parida, Founder of Wish Any Dish, who says that often teams are unable to deliver anything sufficiently valid because they haven’t had someone to guide and push them.

It is also nice to meet with so many like-minded people all in one place, equally enjoying the processes of coding, problem-solving and engaging in varied discussions.

So it isn’t saying too much to expect a lot of talent to congregate in one place and to know that learning will be taking place on a massive scale.


Did you know that you don’t have to be a coder or programmer to take part in a hackathon? That’s right! Bharat Ramakrishna assures us that everyone from designers, to product managers and even journalists are welcome to join teams and take part.

Ashish Kumar and Biplab Parida emphasise that every now and then a hackathon results in an uber cool idea. Ashish would know! Stockroomwas a product born at a hackathon.

There’s also the chance that you’ll get an offer letter from someone keeping an eye on the whole thing, so that’s going to be surprising for sure!


image courtesy: pinterest

Now sit up and pay attention. This is useful wisdom!

“For first timers I would say, don’t worry if you know a technology or not, just participate and explore. The learning you get in a 24-hour hackathon is much, much higher than any other form. Also, you get to meet the industry experts, awesome designers, hustlers. The best thing, you get an opportunity to work on your idea and see it live in a day or so.” — Ashish Kumar, Stockroom

“Don’t be afraid to interact with other teams and organisers. The main idea is to learn as much as you can and build your network.” — Bharat Ramakrishna, Venturesity

“If it’s an overnight hackathon, make sure you get some sleep during the event. Bleary-eyed coding is often filled with lots of bugs.” — Sanket Saurav, DoSelect

“Finally, do not go to a hacknight assuming you will end up with a startup idea here. Go to a hacknight to talk to people, to understand challenges in the problem space, write your code or collaborate with other participants.” — Zainab Bawa, HasGeek

So you’ve heard it folks! Here’s how we’ll sum up everything:

Code, Learn, Interact & Enjoy!

This post is re-published from the original post http://www.explara.com/blog/hackathon-101-your-basic-guide/



Santosh Panda

CoFounder -Foundership : Web3 Accelerator VC. Prev: CEO @Explara 2008-20| Engg eBay UK / BBCiPlayer /Comicrelief