What is a Hackathon?

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Last updated on May 30, 2024

Course Report strives to create the most trust-worthy content about coding bootcamps. Read more about Course Report’s Editorial Policy and How We Make Money.

Hackathons are exhilarating (albeit sometimes stressful!) events where technologists come together to innovate and build projects within a limited timeframe. We’re delving into four reasons to participate in hackathon events, and insights on what you can expect once you’re signed up. Find out where to find your next in-person or online hackathon, plus learn from the hackathon experiences of ten recent bootcamp graduates! 

What is a Hackathon?

A hackathon is an event where teams of technologists work together to build a project in a limited amount of time. Hackathons often have a theme (for example: building web applications focused on sustainability), and winning hackathon projects may be awarded prizes. While certain hackathon teams may only be for developers, there are many hackathons that encourage teams to have other technologists, such as UX/UI designers, data scientists, and product managers.

4 Reasons to Participate in a Hackathon

1. Learn New Skills & Expand Your Creativity 

Whether you’re new to tech or a seasoned technologist, hackathons are an excellent way to learn new skills alongside others. Gema, a bootcamp graduate from Sabio, says, "People who go to hackathons are very open, inclusive, and welcoming in general. So if you want to get experience with coding or build something, go to a hackathon and I promise it will get done." Hackathons require creativity, which inspires teams to try new programming languages, tools, frameworks, or methods as they’re building their project. As App Academy graduate Freddy points out, “I ended up learning Flask and Python in about three days!”

2. Get Comfortable Working on a Technical Team

Since they are team-based, hackathons are an opportunity for new techies to become comfortable working on a team. New to the tech scene, Tamyra signed up for hackathons after graduating from Flatiron School. “As an introvert, I knew that if I was going to be serious about this I needed to involve myself in a lot of different socially uncomfortable situations, so I intentionally signed up for hackathons and then as I started to do them, it got easier and I became more accustomed to letting my voice be heard in a group,” Tamyra says, “It encouraged me to speak up, offer feedback, take the lead, and feel comfortable in my skill set.”

Amy, a coding bootcamp graduate of The Jump, also found that hackathons gave her a good foundation in working on a tech team. “Working together as a group really helped me understand how other people code,” Amy says, “We helped each other throughout the hackathon and even had a few slices of pizza to celebrate our win!”

BrainStation alumni Jung and Nick learned how data scientists and UX designers can work together through their hackathon experience. “It was great to have different disciplines be a part of the team because inherently UX designers are required to work together with various stakeholders. The greatest strength we leveraged out of having the BrainStation data science alums Ali and Nick was their ability to draw insights from a raw collection of data. To us UX designers, the data may seem meaningless, but to Nick and Ali they saw valuable information there and they teased that out,” says Jung.

3. Stand Out in a Competitive Tech Talent Pool

For those on the tech job hunt, hackathons can help people stand out in a competitive talent pool — Employers are interested in candidates who apply themselves to continuous learning! As General Assembly graduate Shane says, “The hackathon improved my career development in three ways: It sharpened my problem-solving skills; reinforced the skill of compromise; [and] sharpened my collaborative skills. I will definitely be putting this hackathon project in my portfolio, and if given the opportunity, I'll be discussing it in future job interviews!”

“One of the biggest things from this hackathon was the fact that you're able to come out of this with something to add to your portfolio,” Product Designer and Flatiron School graduate Matthew says, “Having your portfolio up-to-date with new technologies and projects is key to staying competitive in this job market.”

4. Expand Your Professional Network

Hackathons are a great way to expand your network! As Flatiron School graduate Sheena points out, “[My hackathon experience] impresses employers when I’m networking. It’s really important to have these projects and be able to talk about my experiences for my career growth. I especially love the collaborative aspect of a hackathon — you get to learn so much from other people who know more than you do or who know a different way of doing things.”

Flatiron School graduate Tamyra recommends hackathons for bootcampers because “you make incredible connections! The people that you are working with are able to see how you work under pressure, having to design an entire app in 24 hours. They’re so intense, but a lot of fun and you learn so much!” 

What to Expect at a Hackathon

A hackathon begins with participants from various technical backgrounds and experience levels forming teams in order to build a project. Before signing up for a hackathon, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the hackathon’s theme or focus and brainstorm a few project ideas. Creativity and follow-through is highly encouraged in a hackathon!

Hackathons are intense because they require teams to build projects in a short timeframe. The hackathon timeframe may be just a day or it could run a few weeks. Jess, a General Assembly graduate who competed in the Social Impact Hackathon, says “We had our kickoff meeting on Monday morning with our four team members, and then presented our project by Wednesday night. This meant that we had about three business days plus all the late nights in between to complete our project!”

Depending on the hackathon, mentors and experienced professionals may be available. However, participants should enter the hackathon prepared to lean on their teammates and network for knowledge and support. As App Academy graduate Emily says, “We didn't have instructional help, but we did have all of the documentation and any independent research that we could need. We were also bouncing ideas off of software engineers that we had worked with in the past.”

Hackathons conclude with a presentation where teams show what they have built. Depending on the hackathon, prizes may be awarded to the most successful team. Regardless if you win, adding the hackathon experience to your job materials and portfolio is a great way to be recognized by your larger network and potential hiring managers.

Where to Find Hackathons

You can head to well-known hackathon websites like Devpost, Hackalist, OpenHackathons, Devfolio, and AngelHack to find lists of active hackathons. Hackathons are also posted on Eventbrite, and some of these events may be in person!

Organizations like SheCanCode, Tech To The Rescue, and Tech for Change as well as local Meetup groups may host hackathons. Follow their channels to get the latest information about upcoming events and hackathons. Different tech-related Slacks may also host hackathons — look to their “Events” channels for more information. 

Coding Bootcamp-Sponsored Hackathons

Many coding bootcamps such as General Assembly, BrainStation, Flatiron School, App Academy, and Sabio host hackathons for their students and alumni. These hackathons may be in partnership with a larger company, such as Microsoft or AT&T, or give bootcampers the opportunity to work with real world clients. If you are a student or graduate of a coding bootcamp, connect with their staff to get the latest on upcoming hackathons! 

👩‍💻 Interested in kick-starting your career change into tech? Get Matched with the best bootcamps for you!

About The Author

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps. With a background in writing, teaching, and social media management, Jess plays a pivotal role in helping Course Report readers make informed decisions about their educational journey.

Also on Course Report

Get our FREE Ultimate Guide to Paying for a Bootcamp

By submitting this form, you agree to receive email marketing from Course Report.

Get Matched in Minutes

Just tell us who you are and what you’re searching for, we’ll handle the rest.

Match Me