5 Ways To Get Noticed
At a Hackathon

You come for the challenge and big prizes, but more and more hackathons are places to meet potential employers and get hired. Yet, at PennApps, over 2,000 people attended and 70 organizations sponsored the event. In such a crowd, it can be hard to get noticed. So what makes some get noticed and others forgotten? Here’s what we notice when we go to a hackathon.


1. Love what you do

The people we remember are the ones with passion. At PennApps, there was one participant multiple people from FINRA remembered. Why him?

“He was full of enthusiasm.” Michael Chao, a FINRA developer, said, “He was definitely passionate about what he’s doing.” More than just outgoing, this participant had ideas he wanted to share with everyone. He channeled this enthusiasm to create one of the winning hacks, FIN-der.

Why is enthusiasm important? With so many people at a hackathon, enthusiasm distinguishes you from the crowd. Enthusiastic people are more engaging and fun. More importantly, that energy shows not only a willingness to show up but also a passion for the technical work.

2. Participate

This one sounds obvious, but more and more people treat hackathons like a job fair. While it’s great to see interest, hackathons aren’t job fairs. Instead of a perfect resume, we want to see your work.

We’re looking to answer questions resumes can’t answer. How do you approach a problem? How do you work in teams? What’s your grasp of different technologies? By the end of a hackathon, we hope to be able to answer at least some of these questions.

Even if you aren’t participating in a specific sponsor’s challenge, participating in the hackathon gives sponsors the opportunity to see how you work and to find solutions.

3. Ask questions

Lots of booths dangle free swag and food to grab your attention. It works: we brought t-shirts and cereal and tons of people came by because of our free stuff. Tempted to grab as much swag as possible? You’d miss a great opportunity to get noticed. At hackathons, a lot of great tech companies show up. At PennApps, for example, other sponsoring companies included:

If you’ve ever wanted an inside glimpse into one of these organizations, hackathons are a great opportunity. Find out more from people who actually work in technology. A large company like Facebook may only bring 3-4 people to an event, but spending time with them can allow you to understand the culture and daily work life.

More than company culture, ask about their work. What languages are they working with? What are the technical challenges the organization is focusing on? Are there any projects they’ve open sourced lately?

You may not be able to work on a sponsor’s challenge, but you can glimpse into their work to see if you’re interested in learning more.

4. Present well

At PennApps, we had nearly 20 groups work on our challenges. Judges rated projects on their creativity and implementation. Yet, there was another factor that impressed the judges: how the groups presented. Part of presentation is emotion. “They only get 5 minutes” Nil, a FINRA development director, explained. “Passion tends to sway you.”

More than passion, an ability to think on your feet is impressive. “They need to be able to answer technical questions but also show us how they thought through the problem,” said Mohammed, another FINRA developer.

These skills aren’t icing on the cake but something we actively look for. At a large organization like FINRA, being able to present and share your ideas matters. Whether informally to co-workers or formally in a meeting, is critical, presenting well is a valuable skillset beyond any hackathon.

5. Follow up

While there may be dozens of people we talked with at a hackathon, very few follow up after an event. Especially if people give you their business cards, following up after the event will do more than get you noticed, it will get you remembered.

Brijesh a developer at FINRA, for instance, was hired after FINRA sponsored Bitcamp, a hackathon at University of Maryland. How did it happen? He met and chatted with Nil at the hackathon. Impressed, Nil gave Brijesh his card. Brijesh followed up via email, continuing the conversation. Because Brijesh continued to show interest, Nil asked Brijesh to come in, beginning the hiring process. Following up with a sponsor never assures you a job. It does, however, show you’re interested beyond a weekend event, free swag, or any potential prizes. As the event fades away, following up ensures you’re remembered and potentially keep doors open for further opportunities.

Conclusion

With over 60 hackathons in 2015 so far, these events are only becoming more popular for participants and sponsoring companies. Success at a hackathon means different things for different participants. Some people are looking for jobs, some are looking to win prizes, and some just want a chance to grow their skills. Want sponsoring companies to take notice? Taking part in challenges and engaging with them on a technical level will not only show your skillset, but also give you an understanding of theirs.

Interested in more long term projects? Check out our careers page.