what do hackathon judges look for

You’ve formed a rockstar team, worked your butts off to create the best project possible, gone without sleep and with more energy drinks than you’d care to admit, but it’s just about done. All that’s left? Presenting to the hackathon judges. So take a deep breath — you’re in the final stretch!

We know it can be stressful. After all, your blood, sweat, and yes, even tears, are wrapped up in this project, and you only have a few short minutes to convince everyone else that it’s as awesome as you think it is. So what do you do? We have a few suggestions.

You Do You

You and your team know this app inside and out. More importantly, you know why it’s awesome, what sets it apart, why it’s important, what its quirks are, and why you chose to build it the way that you did, which is exactly what hackathon judges will want to know.

Some key points:

  • Know what the qualifications are going in. Some hackathons have specific judging criteria for particular prizes, or even for turning in your final project. Hence, set aside the last 15 minutes of your hacking time to make sure you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s.
  • Don’t give a sales pitch. You aren’t selling a product, nor are you trying to get funding for a start-up. Hackathon judges care less about the potential future of your project, and more about what you built and why you built it in that way.
  • To that end, know your whys. Come prepared to answer questions about why you chose to use those particular languages and tools, what led you down your particular process path, and what your experience was along the way.
  • Be enthusiastic. I know you’re more likely to be thinking about sleep and a good shower at the end of a hackathon, but splash some cold water on your face and find the excitement that saw you through building the app for just a few more minutes. Enthusiasm is contagious, and you’ll want to show the hackathon judges that they should be equally as excited about your project.
  • Be You. Don’t try to dress up or be someone you’re not. Just show your excitement for the project, clearly communicate the ins and outs and quirks, and do your best to leave your nerves behind.

Just remember, you're awesome!

Hackathons are About the Journey

Ultimately, remember that the awesome thing about participating in a hackathon is the hackathon itself, not the prize. While winning is cool in its own right, remember to have fun! So focus on meeting awesome people, learning new skills, and building cool projects, not whether you won the best prize. Then once you’re done (and maybe after a nap), don’t forget to celebrate! Also, you’ve done something that few people ever do. You’ve invented a brand new product in just a few short hours, and that’s worth a 30-second dance break.

We all deserve an awkward 30-second dance break.

Interested in trying your hand at a hackathon? Keep an eye out for more information on MLH Prime Southwest Regional. We’ll be there representing SparkPost and would love to help you build something awesome!

In the meantime, check out our Developer Hub, where you can find code example, ideas for projects, and more. We look forward to seeing what you build!

–Mary Thengvall

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