Ultimate Hackathon Guide for Beginners

From the world's most powerful brands to small businesses, hackathons are one of the most popular ways for organizations to push creativity and ideas further. 

For participants, however, they can seem daunting at first. This hackathon beginners guide will help you navigate through your first hackathon like a pro. 

This beginners guide is split into 4 main sections: 

  • The basics
  • Pre-hackathon
  • The hackathon
  • Benefits

We’ll try to cover every major topic you need to know about hackathons so that you can be better prepared for the challenge. 

Let’s get started with the basics.

What is a hackathon? 🤔

A hackathon's purpose is to promote innovation and present new ideas or solutions. Companies resort to a challenge to seek community expertise in the hopes of developing a successful product or service. 

Participants, on the other hand, join hackathons for many different reasons: to win monetary rewards and prizes, network with peers, and gain experience, just to name a few. 

Companies are starting to use hackathons as a way of hiring talent, so it can also be a great place to land your first job or find a better opportunity. 

Meaning and Definition of Hackathon

The meaning of the word ‘hackathon’ comes from the junction of the words “hack” and “marathon”. In its essence, the definition of a hackathon is simple: it’s a collaborative problem-solving challenge, designed as a sprint coding event. 

This term was first used back in 1999 when OpenBSD hosted the first-ever hackathon.

How does a hackathon work? ⚙️

Each hackathon is unique as they have formats and themes inherently related to the organizer and its industry. However, we can establish some identical and structural points. 

There are three types of hackathons: face-to-face, virtual, and hybrid. 

The hackathon's organizer will announce the theme of the hackathon, as well as the types of challenges they want participants to take part in. 

In addition to the challenges, the company discloses all information regarding the hackathon: timeline and phases, participation rules, rewards, goals, mentors and juries, FAQs, and communication channels.

Usually, the first step is the registration phase to gather participants. Once the period ends and registrations close, there’s a phase dedicated to forming teams and choosing a challenge. 

Afterward, the hackathon begins and it is up to you, the innovator, to bring your concept and idea to life.

Finally, after the presentations and evaluation from juries, a winner (or multiple winners) is chosen. If you’re part of the winning team, you can also discuss further details with the host once the hackathon is over. 

Are hackathons worth it?

Yes, totally! We’ll show you how to make the most out of a hackathon challenge in the last section of this beginners guide.

Types of hackathons

There are several different types of hackathons. First of all, they can be open or internal challenges. 

Open hackathons are, as the name implies, open to everyone. This is the most common type of hackathon because companies can reach out to a bigger and broader audience. 

On the contrary, internal or company hackathons are challenges hosted strictly for employees. They are great for large-sized companies that have multiple offices and departments around the globe.  By running a hackathon, they can bring teams closer together and have them work towards a single goal.

We can also group hackathons into other categories, such as: 

  • Geographic region: some hackathons are exclusive to participants from Europe, Asia, or a specific country/region. 
  • By theme: Hackathons can also be thematic, for example, related to technology, human resources, climate change, communications, mobility, and many others. 
  • By profession: In the same fashion as themes, hackathons can also be targeted towards a group of professionals like data scientists, web developers, designers, etc. 

You should always evaluate the hackathon beforehand and understand how you can contribute and create an impact. 

You should also choose a hackathon based on a subject you like and enjoy.

Pre-Hackathon 👨‍🎓

Now that you learned the basics of a hackathon, it’s time to jump into the pre-hackathon process.

As a hackathon beginner, you should prioritize this stage. This is the moment you will gather all the information about the hackathon, and learn more about the challenges proposed. 

1. Get to know the company and its goals

It’s always important to learn about the company, even if it’s well-known. Most times, large corporations work with specialized companies to co-host the event. Also, it can be a particular department or sub-brand working at the forefront of the hackathon.

Take a look at the “Building the Future” hackathon, for example. While the organizer was Microsoft, they counted with co-hosts such as Galp and GoWithFlow, a startup working towards sustainable mobility.

Learning what these companies are working on and who they are can give you valuable insights later on.

2. Become part of the Hackathon community

During the pre-hackathon stage, organizations usually provide workshops, webinars, and talks to explain their process, goals, and challenges.

As a beginner, we strongly recommend you take part in this!

3. Get acquainted with the tools provided

Organizations regularly provide supporting documentation, as well as their software, especially for challenges focused on a specific subject. In the CASSINI hackathon, for example, the organization provided a satellite platform for innovators joining the challenge.

4. Start forming a team

In a hackathon competition, the importance of building a good team cannot be overstated. We go more in-depth on this matter in our "6 Easy tips to win more hackathons" article.

Communication channels will also be publicly available by this time. It’s a fantastic opportunity for you to join Slack, Discord, or other platforms, and mingle with participants!

Here at TAIKAI, we advise everyone to complete their profiles, because it’s extremely helpful when team leaders are searching for members.

We also have a great matchmaking system, where you can find other teammates based on their skills and expertise! Simply choose a hackathon from the challenges page, and navigate to the “Matchmaking” tab.

There are other ways you can find a team, too. Look into your network of colleagues, friends, and peers on social media (Twitter and LinkedIn are great at this). More dedicated platforms are also good choices, such as Github.

5. Start working on your research

Finally, as soon as you have a good understanding of the hackathon and its challenges, you should start doing your research to later brainstorm ideas.

Many teams opt to do research individually and then get together to discuss their findings and conclusions.

If you need a good inspiration source to come up with ideas, our article about winning project ideas is a good place to start.

The Hackathon! 👨‍💻

This is it! The moment you’ve been preparing for.

First of all, regardless of whether you’re participating in a live or virtual hackathon, we recommend you stay away from sugar and energy drinks.

On-site hackathons have built a somewhat bad reputation over the years because they were seen as maniac coding marathons, where web developers wouldn’t even take a break to go to the toilet.

Thankfully, nowadays, those hackathons are more balanced, and with virtual hackathons the problem is non-existent.

How to deal with Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon that occurs to pretty much everyone, at some point. It’s when you doubt your own talents and feel like a fraud.

As a hackathon beginner, it can become a problem: you are very self-aware and feel like everyone else is better than you.

While there’s no magic formula to overcome this, if you’re feeling uncomfortable just take a step back, relax, and understand everyone started from zero at some point.

A hackathon is a great way to learn and get experience, not the other way around!

Manage your time

During the challenge, you must manage your time efficiently. Good team communication is necessary, and you should set checkpoints for each task or block. This way, everyone will be aware if a mistake or problem arises, and you can find ways to fix it faster.

Speak with mentors and organizers

Mentors are there to help you, so getting their feedback during a hackathon is extremely important! As a beginner, there will be times when you might feel lost, so reach out to them to guide you on the right path. 

The Benefits 💯

This is the last section of our complete hackathon guide for beginners. And this is the best one too because there are plenty of perks for participating in these events. 

f you’re still uncertain about joining a hackathon challenge, this is for you!

Develop your hard skills

There’s a reason people love hackathons - they’re a great way to put your knowledge into practice. On one hand, you’re developing a project in a real-world environment. No more fictitious exercises this time around.

But there’s much more to it. You have to work towards a goal and with a set deadline. Being timebound and having that sense of urgency is what makes hackathons great and forces you to be on top of your game.

Win Prizes

It goes without saying that winning prizes is another compelling reason to participate in a hackathon.

Participants might be rewarded in a variety of ways by the organizers. 

Here are a few of the most popular:

  • Monetary prizes (cash);
  • Rewards such as laptops, gaming chairs, headsets, and other tech items;
  • Mentorships;
  • Training;
  • Paid trips to major events & conferences;
  • Books & Swag; 

And many more! 

At TAIKAI we also reward participants with a cryptocurrency: our very own KAI social token! Even if you’re not the winner of the hackathon, you can still win KAI’s. 

Since KAIs are a complementary reward, you don’t need to worry. You can still collect the hackathon prizes + KAIs

You can learn more about KAIs here.

Get exposure

Another great benefit of participating in hackathons is gaining exposure. Basically, in an event of this magnitude, you are surrounded by colleagues, as well as mentors and experts.

If you have talent, dedication, and a project that stands out (even if it isn't the winner), you have a great opportunity of making connections and be recognized as a top professional.


A hackathon is all about networking. You’ll find yourself surrounded by people who value learning and collaboration as much as you do.

Furthermore, simply working under pressure with your colleagues will most certainly help in building a special bond with someone that will stay long after the Hackathon is over.

Revamp your CV

In today’s market, when reading your resume, hiring managers don’t look just at the skills and certifications you claim to have. They go to greater extents to figure out who you are.

As a result of highlighting your hackathon participation, you build a reputation as a self-starter, lifelong learner, and challenge seeker. All of those skills are indisputable assets to any business, and they will set you apart from the competition.

Get recruited

As we mentioned before, attending a hackathon for the sake of recruitment is one of the main motivations to do so. Many businesses use hackathons to identify new talent.

They're looking for folks that can operate in a fast-paced atmosphere and succeed. So do your best and show off your coding skills, you might just land your dream job!

We covered how you should prepare for coding challenges in this article.

Have fun!

Hackathons are well-known for being exciting. You will be tested and stressed at times sure, but you will enjoy every minute of it.

Being surrounded by interesting people, getting freebies, engaging in entertaining tasks, and keeping your mind stimulated while developing ideas are all great ways to have fun.

Final Thoughts  💭

We truly hope our hackathon beginners guide allowed you to learn more about this exciting event.

We’ve covered every major aspect of hackathons so you can have the upper hand and skyrocket your skills and career.

Now it’s time for you to get started

And a great place to do so is our hackathon platform. Simply sign-up, navigate over the challenges page, and find a hackathon that you enjoy and feel comfortable with!

Good luck!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

How do I find hackathons?

There are many companies hosting hackathons out there. Luckily, one easy way to find hackathons is to check our challenges page. We host several virtual hackathons from companies like Microsoft, Hilti, NISSAN, and European Commission.

How do I start a hackathon?

Before you do, make sure you have the time and commitment to the hackathon. The first steps are usually signing up for a hackathon, finding teammates, doing research, and brainstorming your idea.

What to bring to a hackathon?

For online hackathons, all you need is a stable internet connection, a working computer, and a headset to communicate with your team.

How do I add a hackathon to a resume?

If it’s a printed resume, don’t forget to add the name of the hackathon and host company, a brief description of the goal, and more importantly, an overview of the project you developed. If you have an online CV or portfolio, you can link your TAIKAI Profile and redirect users to our platform, where they can find all the information about your project. You can also share your accomplishments on LinkedIn or other relevant social media channels.

What are hackathons like?

Hackathons are a lot of fun! In a short time, you’ll talk and network with like-minded people, form a team, and dedicate your time to create something unique and valuable. It’s a feeling like no other.

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