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Hackathons: The New Career Kickstart Opportunity

Published on 30 October 15

Over the past couple of years, hackathons have increasingly become a phenomenon that have been grabbing attention in many parts of the world. The concept of a hackathon is not really a new one, although the term is relatively new. In its most general sense a hackathon is an organized activity in which people work together in small teams to focus on solving a given problem. The key word is focus. The participants are usually hosted in a venue that is away from their usual workplaces so that they have no distractions. They are given a clear description of the problem they have to solve and also any constraints they have to work within, they organize themselves into teams, and then they work intensively for a period of usually one day, or sometimes up to three or four days.
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Hackathons can be held within a closed group of employees in a company, or they can be public events to which members of the general public are invited to participate. It’s the public hackathons that are picked up by the media, and there are more and more of them being held for various purposes, hence their visibility and recognition as increasingly popular events.

Hackathons are sponsored for various reasons. Sometimes they are held as competitions at which individual professionals can have the satisfaction of proving their skills or finding out where they stand. Very often, however, large companies sponsor hackathons as a means to discover innovative solutions to existing problems. Sometimes creative and acceptable new solutions come from outsiders who are not biased by knowing the history of the problem and past ways of dealing with it.

Increasingly, though, hackathons are also being used by recruiters and hiring managers. There are hackathon events that are explicitly held for the purpose of recruiting new talent, but quite often, discussions leading to job offers happen even at events that are held for other objectives.

It is for this reason that apart from the usual campus selection events, job fairs and so on, young and aspiring professionals might find it very worthwhile taking part in technology hackathons. Of course they offer an exciting chance to work on real world challenges, but the additional joy could be that they just might lead to the start of a new career. Hackathons could also be a useful way of gauging how one’s skills compare with those of his/her peer technologists. And they could also be a learning experience that leads to understanding and shaping some new traits that invisible recruiting scouts might be looking for. So what are these traits? Bear in mind that while the ability to come up with a brilliantly creative solution that wins the hackathon is always desirable, it’s usually not the only thing that counts. Sometimes there are events at which no solution may be found, but there may still be job offers made. That’s because it’s the other professional qualities on display that may actually count for a lot as well. Some of these are:

A methodical approach. Hackathons are organized so that people can form small project teams, each with a leader. While the events are meant to be fun, they are held under a time constraint and when there’s a methodical approach used to progress from one step to the next it’s always going to be noticed.

Keeping an open mind. Hackathons are usually very large events. They’re filled with all kinds of people who will come up with different perspectives and different approaches. Rather than be stuck on thinking that there’s only one way to solve a problem it can really help to walk around, talk to other people, and generally be willing to observe and accept inputs that might add value to one’s own thoughts.

Being able to work in teams. Hackathons are great places for recruiters to observe how participants actually interact with others, and how well they are able to blend into groups and work collaboratively as team members.

Being professional. Hackathons can be extremely intensive events. They involve working in close quarters with an immense focus, and very short or no formal breaks for food or sleep. New connections are formed, and the atmosphere is usually informal, however it remains a professional event, and personal conduct, integrity, discipline, and objectivity need to be exercised at all times.

Being confident and proactive. The participants at a public hackathon are very likely to be very good their skills. But even so, those that may not be at par should not be intimated by the others around them, or the general atmosphere. Confidence is key to being able to work productively, and no matter what the end result, a proactive, positive attitude can count for a lot.

Hackathons are not the right place to start learning a new skill from scratch, though! They’re meant for people who already have a decent working knowledge of the core skill that they hope to get noticed for. Whatever your core skill area, whether it falls within the areas of Big Data, cloud computing, security, gaming, or mobile applications, or anything else, chances could well be that there’ll be a hackathon coming to your neighbourhood soon.

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