Coded Beginnings: A Journey into Your First Hackathon

Banshaj Paudel (Bhairu)
7 min readDec 9, 2023

Hey there folks!! If you have landed onto this blog, it means that you are either interested and eager to join your first coding hackathon or you are just scrolling your feed at midnight like a modern-day vampire.

Vampire scrolling through LinkedIn Searching for hackathons

Before we start, a quick intro about me: I am Banshaj Paudel, an undergraduate student from Nepal who loves tinkering and developing with technologies to solve social problems. I love working with different communities to empower every one of them. Apart from this, I am a big time Hackathon Player. I have participated in more than 12 national and international hackathons in countries like Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, and USA where I got to learn so many cool stuff that has helped me build a sound profile, and today I will share some of my little experience that intends to help you begin your journey in hackathons.

Starting off, we all know what a hackathon is, but for those who landed on this blog wondering what that is, stay tight, I am going to use my “hackathon like a marathon ideology” to explain to you what it is.

Hackathon is exactly like any other competition. For now let’s compare it with a marathon🏃. The way we use our physical strength and ability to run and conquer victory in a marathon, we use our technical, coding and learning abilities to conquer victory in a hackathon. It is a type of event where, mostly, themes and tracks are defined under which you will have to create impacting solutions. You really don’t have to know how to develop a time traveling program to run on a quantum computer. You can just be a very beginner with zero knowledge who has the hunger to learn things around. In fact, when I first participated in a hackathon, I only worked on the idea development and created PPT for the presentation and still won it because of the collective effort our team demonstrated.

So now that we know what a hackathon is, let’s dive into how you can attend your first hackathon and gain your first ever hacker experience and win some swags in the process 👀.

Step 1 |The Treasure Hunt: Finding “THE Hackathon”

So our first step will be to find a hackathon happening around us. Hackathons are typically by colleges, universities, student-led clubs or even tech and non-tech companies around us. Hackathons are mainly of three types:

  1. In-Person/Physical Hackathon: These are the hackathons that happen in local communities around your city or the place you live in. They invite you to a designated venue, most likely a campus or an university, where you stay with your entire team for the designated amount of time, likely from 36 to 48 hours. The organizing teams take care of your lodging and fooding needs.
  2. Online/Digital Hackathon: Online hackathons are very much the same as In-Person Hackathons. The only BIG difference is that your team codes and becomes a part of these events from the comfort of your home. The biggest plus point of joining an online hackathon is, you are not bounded by geographical regions. That’s right, you can be in a country surrounded by beautiful mountains like Nepal in the Asia Region, and participate in a hackathon that is happening in the states. Online Hackathons were a boom during the Covid Season when folks couldn’t gather in the same place and it is still in the uprise due to its accessibility benefits.
  3. Hybrid Hackathon: Hybrid hackathons are those types of hackathon which have a mixture of both Online and In-Person hackathon. These events allow a certain number of teams to join physically and the rest of them online. The conditions for joining the physical hackathon depends upon the organizers of the event.

There are many ways you can find your first “THE Hackathon” but the most preferred ones are either Internet Searches, LinkedIn, Facebook, or X (previously known as twitter). There are dedicated platforms as well like Devpost or Devfolio that have awesome hackathons being hosted. But along with these, if I were to prefer a resource for finding a hackathon, I would never get tired of suggesting Major League Hacking’s (MLH) website.

Major League Hacking (MLH) is the official student hackathon league. Each year, they power over 300 weekend-long invention competitions that inspire innovation, cultivate communities and teach computer science skills to more than 500,000 developers around the world. MLH is an engaged and passionate maker community, consisting of the next generation of technology leaders and entrepreneurs. So you can always visit their website at https://mlh.io for finding awesome hackathons happening around you.

Step 2 | Avengers Assemble! : Assembling your A-Team

“If you want to run fast, go solo but if you want to run far, go with your team”.

I don’t remember where I had heard this quote but since before my first hackathon, it has stuck to my head like Poo sticks to his honey.

When finding your team, make sure to know them better as well as let them know you even better. A team is not just a group of people doing something collectively. It is a special bond you create among yourselves to achieve something. When I attended my first hackathon, I knew nobody who would participate with me and was really sad that I could never participate in a hackathon but then I used this technique [shared later in this blog] to find my winning team. Below are some of my go-to techniques that I used before finding my A-Team for hackathons:

Team PNP: (From Left to Right) Nadika Poudel, Krishbin Paudel and Banshaj Paudel. Picture from Microsoft Imagine Cup 2023
  1. Open your eyes 👀 !! Look around you:

The initial source to find potential team members is right in your vicinity. You may discover that someone you’ve never engaged with during lunch could turn out to be your ideal teammate, leading you to victory in numerous hackathons. You just have to be open to all and LOOK AROUND YOU!!

2. Discord:

You might not believe this but sometimes discord, a place where you generally bug CS GO for hours, can be the place where you find your ideal crew for a hackathon. Many great teams have found their lifelong buddies at discord and you could be one of them. You just have to join the right places (discord servers) at the right time. You can join Major League Hacking’s Discord Server as well where you can not only find the right teammates but also the right event for your first hackathon.

3. Online Communities (How I found my first team for the hackathon):

Believe me when I say this, online communities are one of the best ways to find a team for any hackathon happening around you. During my first time, I created a public post requesting anyone who was interested to join a hackathon to drop their skills and based on that I contacted a few members and boom, I found my first team with whom I joined my first hackathon and even won it. Although, later I have switched teams but this is how I had actually found my first team for the hackathon.

Before you create a team, make sure to understand if you all are a match for each other or not. You can do this by sharing each other’s view about the hackathon, ideas and work on a few projects. Remember, your first team doesn’t necessarily have to be your last team.

पिक्चर अभी बाकी है मेरे दोस्त : The show Isn’t Over Yet 😉

I am really glad that you folks made it so far. While you are reading this, the second part of this series is being planned. I am not a full time content writer. I am just here to guide you with things I had faced during my first hackathon. Stay tuned for further parts and do connect me on my LinkedIn to know more about hackathons, my own journey and other cool stuff on technology.

All the images used in this blog are credit to Microsoft Designer.

For any suggestions, improvements or corrections, feel free to reach me on my LinkedIn or email me at banshajpaudel5010@gmail.com

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Banshaj Paudel (Bhairu)

Follow this mantra to success, “Learn, Unlearn and Relearn”