first hackathon experience with laptop and coffee

Hackathon season is upon us. You may have seen a tweet from Major League Hacking or heard some hackathon experiences at a local meetup. Perhaps this motivated you to unleash your inner hacker and build something awesome for fun and even the chance to score some prizes or free swag. After scanning through the many hackathons happening in your area, you’ve selected one and registered. It’s happening… but now what? It dawns on you that you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, you don’t have a team, and you have no idea what you’re going to build.


SparkPost loves sponsoring and mentoring at hackathons and we’ve come up with some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your first hackathon experience.

Prepare at Home First

Before you arrive at your first hackathon, take some time to think about your strengths and weaknesses and be comfortable with them. You’ll likely be looking for team members and it can be helpful to have a short personable elevator pitch to effectively explain your skillset.

Make a decision as to which development stack you’d like to use and be sure your environment is properly setup. No one wants to waste time downloading and installing the latest version of nodejs or an ide. Wifi tends to flake – do your heavy lifting at home.

Plan to bring items for comfort and convenience. It never hurts to have a powerstrip, extra pens, a pillow, or some energy drinks. Remember you’ll be pulling an all-nighter so dress comfortably. While everyone looks dapper in a three-piece suit, you’ll probably want to stick with a comfortable shirt and pajama or sweat pants. Depending on the weather, you might also want to bring your favorite hoodie.


Talk to Everyone

The beginning of a hackathon is your chance to network. Be friendly, introduce yourself, and shake lots of hands. Use your previously crafted personal elevator pitch and start looking for potential team members and project ideas.


Be sure to go around to all the participating companies. Thank them for their sponsorship, you never know when you might need help at 2am. Use this time to find out if they have any special challenges. This is a great way to enhance a project idea and maybe pick up a prize or two. Some companies might also be recruiting, so this is a great way to find out what the company does and get an idea of their culture. Also, collect some awesome swag.

Define Your Victory

For a lot of hackathon newbies, it’s easy to think, “I have no chance of ‘winning’, why should I even go?” While it is true that many attend a hackathon to “win”, others go to find motivation, learn something new, hunt for a job, or spend time with the developer community. If at the end of the hackathon you have a project that isn’t quite finished, but yet you have a deeper, more comprehensive knowledge of a technology you’ve been wanting to learn, e.g. Slack Bots, that is a great win.


Your first hackathon should be a fun and enjoyable experience. It’s unlikely you’ll dominate the competition and win all the prizes your first time. So take every opportunity to learn and prepare for your next hackathon.

Hopefully these tips will help enhance your initial hackathon experience. If you happen to be attending a SparkPost sponsored hackathon, be sure to stop by our booth and say hello. Our team would love to help you build something awesome.

Have a great tip for a first time hackathon attendee? Leave it in the comments below. Want to chat with our developers and community members? Join our community slack channel!

–Aydrian Howard