Text and photo: Alexandra Petrova

A hackathon is an event where people from different backgrounds form teams and work towards creating solutions, which they present by the end of the hackathon to the judges. Hackathons usually have a certain theme and can be purely for educational purposes, but often times they are organized to explore and build around a new technology or platform.

During the past 4 years I have attended 8 hackathons in total, among them – Junction, Nordea Innovation Challenge, Hack4FI, Open Data Day, and each has been a unique experience. Our hacks have won gran prix prizes at LUT Code Camp (2012) and Music Hack Day Helsinki (2013), best app prize at Senseg Feelscreen Hackathon (2015), second place at Samsung Innovation Challenge (2014), and first place in the Futulabs track at Junction (2015). 



Believe me, they are so much fun!



How often do you get a chance to spend time working with 50-1000+ likeminded people on common projects for a whole day or two, or even a week? In hackathons, the connections you build are really strong, regardless of whether they are built over an early breakfast after a night of working, at a lazy lunch, or at a dinner when the winners are being celebrated. Some of the most meaningful discussions I’ve ever had happened during hackathons! (Naturally, some not-so-meaningful guitar singing or video game playing happens too, but the experience is rewarding nonetheless)



It’s OK to come to a hackathon without a team and it is also OK to come without even an idea. You will find everything there! Even if you think you have it all already, you can still get great members and ideas from elsewhere. It rarely goes as planned: you might get a completely new idea or decide to join a different project simply by hearing someone pitch or by joining a discussion over pizza and beer.



Having said that, you will go through a lot of storming in a very short time. You will probably change your idea quite a few times and some team members would drop out. The beauty of a hackathon is that you can let them go – you haven’t had time to invest resources into a certain idea or team yet, but the people who stay and the ideas that remain will turn out to be the right ones.



Hackathons have strict time limits and they really make you decide on the MVP that you’re aiming to present. It is usually impossible to have everything ready by the end of the event, so knowing your hack’s main feature(s) and how to grab the audience’s attention is important.  



Hackathons are like marathons, hence the name. During a hackathon, much like a marathon, you are constantly proving yourself: “I can do this!” You work all night or even two nights in a row with little to no sleep. You gain a second wind during the final pitching and in the end of a hackathon, when receiving your award, you feel exhausted but truly satisfied – like a true marathon winner.



There are different roles at hackathons, so it is good to know if you want to participate as a developer, ideator, or designer. However, you might end up doing something different from what you had initially planned. In the end, it really helps you become aware of how work is done in different areas and discover a new hobby or area of focus for yourself.



This is my personal favorite: You often get an exclusive chance to explore fresh innovations and test technologies that are not publicly accessible yet. Additionally, you get to play with them, hack for them, and give useful feedback straight to the companies in charge. You could even get access to interesting APIs, tools, and resources that make your ideas become reality much more easily.



Speaking of ideas, you can really do anything! You are creating a hack, not starting a company, (although hacks could turn into products some day) so you are free to choose what interests you and your team the most and go for it! Nobody will judge you. I’ve seen hacks that let you create music by juggling with balls, or choose whether you prefer puppies or kittens, or analyze your personality and predict your buying habits by recording your speech. The sky’s the limit!



There aren’t many places where you can learn something new free of charge in only one or two days with the help of some amazing mentors and peers. Luckily, hackathons are made for this. You also learn from other hackers when you’re trying to solve a common problem together and when you’re challenged to do something you’ve never done before – like giving a pitch, for example.


Once you’ve been to a hackathon, it’s hard to stop attending them! Do you want to try one out, or are you looking for the next hackathon to go to? Check out Hack the Office with Caverion – the hackathon organized by HUB13 this November!

Happy hacking!

Share This