Hackathons are sprint-like coding competitions where programmers, designers, project managers, and other software development-related talent compete to quickly build a software project. Typically, these events last between one to three days, and there are plenty of benefits. Participating in a hackathon can foster problem-solving and risk-taking in a calm but electric environment that stimulates your creativity.

For many years, hackathons have been a crucial tool in driving innovation in the software development industry. They help growing developers network, learn invaluable skills, put their skills to practical use, and even win money and awards that can help them advance their professional lives or personal projects.

Remote hackathon

The spread of the coronavirus has resulted in the growth of online hackathons. While it does eliminate the benefits of in-person hackathons, it breaks some of the barriers associated with live brick and mortar events, allowing people from all around the world to work together. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about remote hackathons:

Solve Current Challenges

One of the best things you can do during a hackathon is to make your project relevant. What problem is a particular audience trying to solve today? How can you address their needs? The current coronavirus pandemic is a great example of how hackathons help address current, relevant issues surrounding the virus.

For example, Lumiata COVID-19 Global AI Hackathon aimed to address the challenges posed by COVID-19 and its judge panel included Aneesh Chopra, the former chief technology officer for the White House administration. Its first place winner was ImmunoLynk, a startup that aims to empower healthcare workers, by using machine learning and blockchain to decentralize immunity testing.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you’re very short on time—which means now isn’t a good time to try and reinvent the wheels. The idea is to not start something from scratch; chances are, you only have 24-48 hours to complete your project. It’s also likely that there’s already existing technology that can help you achieve your goals, whether it’s an integration or a piece of open source technology. Leverage this to your advantage, instead of trying to create every piece of technology yourself.

Start Brainstorming Early

Coming up with your hackathon idea can be a major stressor, but it’s very important. Like in-person hackathons, you should do your best to brainstorm before the hackathon begins. Some people might inaccurately believe that they aren’t creative types, however, given the proper preparation, anyone can pull out some impressive creative concepts.

Before the hackathon starts, create a document and fill it with potential ideas. Search for inspiration in relevant places and begin the preliminary process of putting pen to paper. The media is a great place to start. Sift through your favorite tech media outlets and note different technologies, trends, and products.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and use this as an opportunity to try something new, like a recently released framework or programming language. Want to use a Dear Imgui library? Interested in trying out Kotlin? If there’s a type of technology that no one is talking about, but that you see potential in, try it.

Online communication with colleague via video conferencing

Be Prepared to Collaborate

One thing that hasn’t changed about the structure of hackathons is that you’re required to collaborate intensively. No matter what hackathon you participate in or where you’re located, collaboration is a fundamental part of putting together a product.

That being said, never be afraid to ask for help in a hackathon setting; even in a remote hackathon, you’re “surrounded” by like-minded people who enjoy the opportunity to lend their expertise when needed. Don’t be afraid to talk to other people simply because you’re in a competitive environment.

Online Hackathon Resources

If you’re prepared to participate in an online hackathon, there are plenty of resources out there to help get you started.

For starters, you can find virtual hackathons and programming challenges at HackerEarth. From here, search for upcoming events that might interest you. For example, one of its upcoming hackathons, “Hack 2021” encourages participants to “create solutions that are socially responsible, address sustainability, mental wellness, and connect individuals with the tools to promote the general welfare. And there are plenty of other hugely popular platforms for hackathons, including DevPost, HackerLeague, and HackerList. Each of these websites offer plenty of hackathons to choose from.