If asked to describe a hackathon, one could conjure up many adjectives including, challenging, competitive and motivating, but most often they are described as fun.
And with a theme like ‘Hack for Happiness’ such as the upcoming Future Founders 48-hour Hackathon 28-29 August online, it seeks to find and share new avenues for joy. What’s not to like!
What can sometimes be overlooked is the possibilities a hackathon might open-up by way of future employment. That’s right, not only is it a weekend of good old-fashioned problem-solving fun, it’s an addition to your CV, it’s talking points for your next interview, and it could help create the difference between your next advancement in employment.
When you enter a hackathon, you are both learning and exercising a multitude of skills and gaining valuable experience which is transferable to a variety of employment opportunities.
A hackathon involves:
1. Meeting new people
This is a skill that is beneficial in all aspects of life and isn’t always an easy experience for people. You will likely work with people you don’t know as part of your hackathon team, as well as have a chance to expand your networks with other participants and business experts there to teach and mentor. This could build your confidence for the road ahead or possibly open new doors.
2. Learning something new
Whether it’s your first time or not, there is always something new to be learned when a team comes together to solve a problem. It could include learning about entrepreneurship, a teammate’s culture or background or a tip from another founder, but the possibilities are endless.
3. Problem solving
Some enjoy problem solving more than others but it’s a skill that is often enquired about in job interviews and having examples to draw upon is extremely valuable. The bonus with a hackathon is that you are volunteering your time to join a team and help take-on a challenge which demonstrates to an employer you are willing to go the extra mile.
4. Teamwork and diverse skillsets
Working with others can be equally rewarding and challenging, but as the old saying goes ‘many hands make light work’. The team at HEX, the hackathon pros, like to encourage hackathon teams to form with people that have different strengths, to complement each other.
Four archetypes are quoted by HEX as ‘Hacker’ – someone handy at creating things, ‘Hipster’ – someone good at crafting the message, package or value proposition, a ‘Hustler’ someone very action orientated and good with people and getting feedback and ‘Humanist’ someone great at looking at the problem and solution holistically, making assessments and considering impact.
Not only does this help cover all the bases when taking an idea and getting it ready for pitching, it also fosters learning and encouragement, where you get an opportunity to shine and you can pick up new tips from your teammates with different skillsets that you can carry forward into future challenges.
Teamwork and problem solving to a deadline often requires compromise. Not only is compromise a great skill to exercise in a working environment, it is often looked for by employers. Through compromise you get to also work at complimentary skills including listening, patience and prioritisation.
6. Meeting deadlines
Deadlines can be motivating at times and daunting at others, but arguably necessary in a lot of situations, for goals to be met and action to take place. If meeting deadlines isn’t your strong suit, a hackathon is a great place to work on improving, as many find it harder to let people down when working in a team, and it can force many other skill workouts including goal setting, prioritisation and being efficient with resources. These are all examples of what a lot of employers will be looking for. Evidence of using skills and working with others to get a job done sets a great example for what you could be like as a dependable employee.
7. Presentation skills
To many, public speaking or presenting to a group of people can be one of the scariest parts of their job. Unfortunately like all fears, the best way to conquer it is to tackle it head on. The hackathon provides a supportive environment, where peers are going through the same thing as you and are also presenting their solution. When you take part in pitching your venture at the end of a hackathon, you gain valuable feedback from experts encouraging you and willing you to succeed.
What can also make presenting easier, is when you have a vested interest in the subject you are talking about. So, the business idea you’ve been working on across the weekend creates a great opportunity for valuable presentation practice. These skills can be called on for many things including interviews, work presentations or customer service.
In the Hackathon How-To video created by the team at Hacker Exchange (HEX), Eleanor Smith, Project Lead of Community and Culture describes a recent hackathon participant who used her role and contribution in the hackathon when being asked to give examples of working to tight deadlines and being resourceful in a job interview. Her experience in the hackathon gave her recent examples to use.
Of course, there is another obvious way hackathons can influence your career – it can take you down the path of entrepreneurship. Whether you already have an idea to work on, or you just like the thought of starting something of your own, a hackathon provides the perfect testing ground to see if starting a venture is something you might like to do.
In a recent interview with Startmate, Sam Wong, Co-Founder of Pory, the no-code required app builder, shared how her experiments with ideas, including via hackathons, helped her progress to where she is today.
“At the time, we were still quite inexperienced, and had absolutely no idea what we wanted to do, so hackathons became a natural outlet to test ideas.”
Whatever your reason, there is much to be gained from joining in a hackathon. Being able to tell an employer that you worked on a venture to solve an existing problem, all in 48-hours gives you an advantage.
Find out more about the Future Founders 48-hour Hackathon here, open to all current and former students and graduates (up to 5 years post-graduation or study) with the theme Hack for Happiness :).