15 Beginner-Friendly Hackathons
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It's common for beginners to feel intimidated by the idea of their first hackathon. They envision advanced programmers typing line after line of code with barely a sweat. So, let's take care of that initial misconception.
There are beginner-friendly hackathons designed for people of all experience levels and all ages, and some even teach basic coding. Like many things in life, that first step is the hardest.
Many hackathon enthusiasts will tell you that after your first event, the hard part is choosing which one to attend next. So let's explore what a hackathon is and how to get you started.
What Is a Hackathon?
The first hackathon dates back to 1999 when OpenBSD organized an event in Canada. Ten developers from around the world hunkered down in a house and integrated the first IPv6 and IPSEC stacks into an operating system within a week.
Today, hackathon events bring together computer programmers, software developers, graphic designers, and other technology enthusiasts. These people typically come together for 24-48 hours and work in teams with a common focus.
Think of these events as marathon coding competitions designed to solve the organizer's or sponsor's problem or topic. Many hackathons also offer free workshops and the opportunity to network, meet like-minded people, and develop your coding skills while having fun.
6 In-Person Hackathons for Beginners
Even if you don't yet know how to code, you can attend these beginner-friendly hackathons. Many provide workshops and mentors for first-timers. Most include meals, drinks, snacks, and possibly a place to crash when you get tired. Some even help cover travel costs.
1. HackMIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
MIT's 24-hour hackathon gathers over 1,000 undergraduate students from around the world. It takes place from October 1-2 on the MIT campus. Students work on new software or hardware projects in education, new frontiers, entertainment, or sustainability.
HackMIT hosts workshops for beginners and also offers beginner prizes. A few of the hackathon's sponsors include Citadel, Sonr, Quantco, and Meta.
2. NASA Space Apps Challenge
This hackathon brings thousands of people together from across the globe from October 1-2. Teams tackle a wide range of problems using NASA's open-source data, and participants can join via in-person or virtual teams.
Space Apps welcomes everyone, including noncoders. If you've ever wondered how to get a coding job at NASA, here's your chance to talk with the experts.
3. PennAppsXXIII (University of Pennsylvania)
Over 1,000 students from across the nation and other countries head to Philadelphia for this student-run college hackathon that occurs in the spring and fall.
The flagship event takes place from September 2-4. Prizes usually include thousands of dollars and perks from company sponsors. Past sponsors include Bloomberg, Filecoin, and Citadel.
UCLA hosts this student-run, 36-hour hackathon in Los Angeles, California. In 2022, it took place in a hybrid format from April 15-17.
According to Crunchbase, the event is hosted by Sigma Eta Pi and Bruin Entrepreneurs and offers over $20,000 in prizes. A few of the hackathon's many sponsors include Figma, Sketch, People Data Labs, Leap Theory, and Dunmore.
5. Hoya Hacks 2023 (Georgetown University)
Hoya Hacks returns to Georgetown University on January 27-29. This 36-hour hackathon brings in about 200-400 undergraduate students from around the world. Students can attend in person or virtually.
Hoya Hacks focuses on projects that align with the social good and can benefit the world. Mentors offer expert-level support.
6. RDV Hacks
RDV Hacks is open to all New York City high school and college students. The hackathon lasts 36 hours from August 6-7 and takes place at RDV University, an incubator for student-founded aspiring companies.
They offer $2,960 in prizes. A few of their sponsors include Rough Draft VC, General Catalyst, and Cooley.
9 Online Hackathons for Beginners
Virtual hackathons offer amazing experiences without having to leave the comfort of your home. These beginner-friendly hackathons usually last longer than in-person events, allowing you to work on your project as time allows.
1. MHacks (University of Michigan)
Once an in-person event run by students at the University of Michigan, MHacks went virtual in 2022 to give everyone a chance to participate.
For about 36 hours from October 14-16, high school, college, and university students build, code, or design projects. Past hackathons included over $25,000 in prizes and had sponsors like Google and Walmart.
2. Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative Hackathon
Participants use data from the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative and the AWS Data Exchange to build sustainable solutions for global problems such as hunger, poverty, health, clean water, and more.
Amazon Web Services offers $100,000 in prizes, including $10,000 for first place and $20,000 in AWS credits. Participants may submit their solutions from July 5-August 30.
Sign Up for the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative Hackathon
3. Startup Weekend Global
Techstars' global hackathon focuses on Web3, decentralized finance (DeFi), metaverse, NFT, and gaming concepts. Participants design, develop, and pitch new startup ideas.
The event includes workshops, entrepreneurs, investors, and industry-leading mentors and takes place from October 28-November 12. Global partners include Google for Startups, Miro, and GoDaddy.
4. TRON DAO Grand Hackathon
Attendees build an open-source NFT, DeFi, GameFi, or Web3 project that will work on Ethereum, TRON, or Binance Smart Chain. Submissions are accepted from February 14-March 7.
TRON is committed to using blockchain technology to accelerate the decentralization of the internet. Prizes include cash paid in cryptocurrency and funding and support for projects.
5. Polygon BUIDL IT
Polygon, a decentralized Ethereum scaling platform, sponsors BUIDL IT, a global virtual hackathon. Participants produce applications for DeFi, NFT, and Web3.
Other tracks include infrastructure tooling for the Polygon ecosystem and interactive games on blockchain. The hackathon offers $500,000 in prizes and takes place from June 15-August 1.
6. Chirp Developer Challenge Hackathon (Twitter)
Attendees use the Twitter API v2 to develop standalone content discovery apps, public good apps, and conversation safety tools. It's open to teams and individuals who submit their projects between June 21-August 19.
Winners in each category receive $10,000 plus sessions with Twitter's developer relations and product teams. Five finalists receive $5,000.
7. Neo4j Cypher Code-Golf
This virtual Cypher coding contest requires developers to solve problems using the graph database, Neo4j.
The Neo4j code-golf platform produces a gamified, leaderboard-based programming competition in which participants attempt to write the shortest Cypher query. Neo4j accepts submissions from June 30-September 15 and offers $27,000 in prizes.
8. MERGE 2022 (Hack+Policy Foundation)
The Hack+Policy Foundation is a student-led nonprofit organization promoting youth engagement in global challenges. This 35-hour virtual hackathon happens on July 22-24 and is open to high school and postsecondary students.
Teams or individuals submit a hack project and/or policy brief about India's COVID-19 health crisis. Prizes include lifetime access to Taskade.
9. NextStep Hacks 2022 (HackAlphaX)
NextStep Hacks was developed by HackAlphaX, an organization created by first-year high school students to inspire and teach students about coding. This weekend-long virtual event gathers teams of students age 13-24 and takes place August 12-14.
Participants create web, mobile, and hardware applications to tackle problems that exist in their everyday lives. HackAlphaX offers 57,000 in prizes.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hackathons
How do I find a hackathon?
Several websites list yearly online, in-person, and beginner-friendly hackathons. Devpost provides a platform where you can find out about many of the world's software hackathons. You can search for events focused on specific themes, such as beginner-friendly, social good, blockchain, and health.
You'll also find numerous hackathons on Eventbrite, an event management website. Examples include hackathons focused on eGaming, sports tech, and education technology. Major League Hacking powers over 200 weekend-long hackathons for more than 65,000 students worldwide.
How do I join a hackathon?
Depending on the platform and organization, you can sign up for a hackathon on Devpost, Eventbrite, or the event's webpage. Make sure to check their requirements before registering. Some provide workshops for beginners and sponsors that help you bring your idea to fruition.
Also, consider the challenges and what you'd like to learn. Many foster technological innovations on widespread issues, such as poverty, hunger, and pollution. Others focus on Web3 and blockchain implementation.
Are hackathons free?
Most hackathons are free. In-person hackathons may also provide food, drinks, snacks, and a place to lay your weary head for a quick nap. Some even cover travel costs. Most online and in-person hackathons also offer free workshops.
Additionally, many hackathons give participants free swag, like bags, t-shirts, and portable chargers. The idea behind these events is to bring beginners and experts together to help each other turn their ideas into reality.
How do I prepare for a hackathon?
First, make sure to get some sleep. While there's tons of energy created by motivated people working together, you'll enjoy the process more when you're not sleep-deprived. You might also consider brainstorming and coming up with an idea for a relevant program or app before the hackathon begins.
Remember why you signed up and follow through on your goals, whether networking, learning a new skill, or adding to your portfolio. Also, don't forget that every hacker once had their "first" hackathon, so leave the intimidation at the door and have some fun.
Feature Image: Maskot / Maskot / Getty Images