Hackathon Planning

How to Improve Hackathons (According to Devs)

Find out what developers actually want from hackathons, and what Devpost is doing to deliver.

What matters most to developers? This is a frequent question for my team at Devpost. We recently organized a game-changing hackathon with the goal of finding out what developers really want. 

Hosting a hackathon isn’t just about creating an exciting and collaborative event—it's also an opportunity to gather invaluable feedback and insight straight from the developers who use your products. There’s always more to learn, but I’m excited to share our knowledge so you can use this information to host your own hackathon and make it the best possible experience for developers. After all, better hackathons mean more developers are empowered to build great software.

The goals for this hackathon

Coming into this hackathon, we wanted to look closely at our inputs (i.e., what we have control over) to see how they affect results. After a lot of discussions, our inputs were grouped into:

  • Reach
  • Ease of submission
  • Incentive to submit
  • Customer support 

We needed metrics for these inputs to effectively measure our efforts, but there were no benchmarks for the more abstract inputs—ease of submission and incentive to submit. We needed data to help assess the current state of each. 

A hackathon on hackathons?

When it comes to collecting metrics and benchmarks from your user base, there are endless approaches you can take. We initially planned to send out a traditional feedback form and started outlining the details. However, when diving deeper into who to email it to, the incentives for participating, how long to keep the form open, etc., the plan started to look more and more like a hackathon. We’re the home of hackathons and it became clear very quickly that this should be a hackathon, too!

GIF showing clips from the the online event where the winner was announced.
Clips from the live winner announcement.

What was the hackathon about?

One of our key tips for hackathon organizers is to keep things simple and aligned with your goals. As noted above, we wanted to find out the current state of incentive to submit and ease of submission. 

With this in mind, we launched Hack Devpost. Participants were asked to answer feedback-related questions and, as a bonus, come up with an idea for a project that would help hackathon participants. The feedback questions focused on identifying their incentive to submit and ease of submission. The bonus idea submissions significantly enhanced our understanding of the ease of submission by providing valuable insights into different hacker experiences and the perspectives of developers on how to improve the process.

How did it go?

In short, it exceeded our goals and expectations. With a modest prize budget of $3,500, full marketing efforts from our marketing team, and less than a month we saw:

  • 7,873 visitors to the hackathon site
  • 1,340 registrants
  • 213 submissions from 202 individuals 

It had a submitter conversion rate of 15% and the overall results in reach and submissions were beyond our goals. However, the real gold was what those submitters shared with us and the community connection we built during the hackathon. 

Through workshops and our Discord chat, participants got to know the Devpost team and felt engaged and part of the community.

A GIF showing the presentation the Devpost team shared during a live workshop for hackathon participants.
Clips from the live workshop.

What matters most to hackathon participants?

Participants were asked feedback questions and their top answers are below:

What Types of Resources Are the Biggest Help to You When You Participate in a Hackathon?

  1. Example Project Code
  2. Chat Support
  3. Relevant Project Ideas

What Takes the Most Time During a Hackathon?

  1. Working on the project
  2. Coming up with an idea
  3. Learning the required technology/tool

What Are the Top Three Things You Consider When Picking a Hackathon?

  1. Prize amount
  2. What I will learn
  3. Date and time commitment

These answers are really interesting and we have already completed some follow-up user interviews to understand why they selected these and how we can improve our inputs.

The idea submissions were in a realm of their own because we got to see what hackers think will help hackers. We posted the winners here, which I highly suggest you check out, and we looked at the ideas as overall themes. The top themes were: 

  • Team building
  • Education and resources
  • Time management
  • Submission form user experience 

Devpost’s Product team already has two influential projects on the roadmap straight from our users.

Learning from every hackathon

Hosting a hackathon always goes beyond just organizing an event. Hackathons offer a unique opportunity to get to know developers using your tools and collect valuable feedback. They provide a genuine way to engage with the developer community and drive innovation. By leveraging the insights gained from Hack Devpost, we can now better focus our efforts on initiatives that will more likely improve the ease of submission and the incentive to submit which overall is to inspire developers to build great software.

I recommend hosting a hackathon for anyone looking for feedback from developers! Contact our team to get started with your next hackathon.

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