So, you want to learn how to run a hackathon? You’re in the right place! Youth Culture recently hosted the HACK To Tomorrow beginner hackathon and had 10 teams compete to create the most innovative solution to the given problem. This post will cover what is a hackathon and how to plan it so if you want to host your own hackathon, keep on reading!

What is a Hackathon?

A hackathon is an event where people work individually or in a team to create a solution to a problem using code or other methods. For Youth Culture’s HACK To Tomorrow event, our participants were given this theme to create a solution around. They were allowed to use code or any other method to materialize their idea but because this was a beginner event, code was not required. Teams usually spend quite a bit of time working on their projects (sort of like a marathon). So, be sure to provide breaks and ensure they are learning something new. Hackathons also host workshops and fun events for their participants to relax a little bit while still learning.

How to Plan a Hackathon

To host a hackathon, there are quite a few things you need to do in preparation. You need to assemble a team (aka your planning committee) who will help you build your event and run it on the day of. Below is a list of steps to follow while planning your hackathon so your event can be successful and fun!

Step 1: Date, Time, Location!

Before you can run your hackathon, you need to know when you are going to host this event. This means figuring out who your target demographic is for your hackathon and thinking about which time works best for them. You also need to think about whether your hackathon is going to be a day-long event or a week-long event. This also depends on your target demographic because beginners may not be able to hack for a week but a day may be too little for seasoned hackers. For Youth Culture’s HACK To Tomorrow event, the target demographic was high school students who did not have much hackathon experience. This led us to host a day-long event on Saturday, March 13th, 2021. We chose a Saturday for the convenience of our hackers and made our event day long so that beginners were given enough time to create a project without getting overwhelmed. We also hosted this event over a variety of online platforms like Zoom, Discord, and Google Classroom due to COVID-19.

Step 2: Timeline

You and your planning committee need to meet and create a list of to-do tasks and a timeline by which all these tasks will be completed. Tasks can include finding judges, creating social media posts, determining prizes, and more. Anything that needs to be done for this event should go on the timeline.

Some tasks on our timeline for the HACK To Tomorrow event are below:

  • Event Agenda: This is a timeline for your event on the day of. This includes the timing of workshops, breaks, and more. To view a sample event agenda, click here!
  • Judges: It is important to find a team of judges who are qualified to judge your event and are able to provide insight and feedback on each team’s project. It’s even better if your judges have a background in your theme. Check out the judges for the HACK To Tomorrow event here!
  • Social Media Posts: We made a few different posts for our social media on Instagram and LinkedIn. An example of these posts is below!Hackathon Hack to Tomorrow 3

Step 3: Workshops

You want your participants to have a chance to learn something new and workshops is a great way to do that. Think about your event’s agenda and how many workshops you can fit into the event. Then, think about the theme of your event and what kinds of workshop content plays into that theme. For the HACK To Tomorrow event, our theme was inclusion and breaking down barriers so one of our workshops was facilitated by Maayan Ziv, an inclusion activist who is also the CEO of AccessNow, an app that provides accessibility information about places all over the world. We also had 2 prototype workshops hosted by Youth Team Members Jaimil and Kamaldeep that taught participants how to prototype an app in Figma and how to use HTML code to prototype a webpage. Those workshops provided our participants with skills they could use for their projects and also use after the event.

Step 4: Communication

Keeping your participants engaged and in the know is really important. Create as much information as possible for them. For the HACK To Tomorrow event, participants were emailed a Student Handbook with all the information they needed for the event, including judging rubric, the day’s agenda, the judges and mentors, and some tips and tricks to make the event successful for them. They were also given the link to the event webpage that also provided participants with information about the platforms and event details. You can check that page out here! We also created an event Discord server to connect participants, and on the day of the event, we had our Discord moderators engaging with participants and answering questions.

To run a hackathon, you need to think first and foremost about the participants and ensure a positive experience. Creating a connection with your participants is important and keeping them engaged is key. For the HACK To Tomorrow event, we recorded a podcast with one of our judges, Wanda Deschamps, and sent it out to our participants prior to the event. As long as you keep your participants in mind and plan for them, it will be a great event! And now you have all of the tips you need to know how to run a hackathon. Good luck!