Hackathon Planning

The Ultimate Hackathon Webinar [Recap]

Get 10+ years of hackathon insights and learnings from this webinar recap.

Hackathons are a staple in developer marketing. Their role has become more important in the space as new technologies emerge and developers look for new ways to grow their skills. Hackathons continue to help tech companies truly connect with these growing developer communities.

Brandon Kessler, Devpost CEO, spoke in Major League Hacking’s (MLH) recent webinar, The Ultimate Hackathon Webinar: 10+ Years of Hackathon Insights and Learnings. Along with the co-founders of MLH, Mike Swift and Jon Gottfried, they shared over a decade’s worth of insights into how tech companies can leverage hackathons to achieve their developer goals.

Check out the recap and recording from the event below.

What role do hackathons play in developers’ journeys?

Swift: There's a big gap between the theoretical concepts that we teach in a classroom and the actual practical skills that you need as an engineer. We've found through decades of developer experience that the best way to learn is to use code to solve problems.

What is the journey of a professional developer participating in hackathons compared to a student?

Brandon: Learning through building, whether you are a college student or professional developer, doesn't change. It's so important. In our experience, it’s the number one reason people participate in hackathons, and probably the number one reason people sponsor them is because you actually get people's hands dirty with the tools.

If you’re a professional developer, you may not be able to do as many three-day, all-night hackathons as you could when you were a student, but with a longer horizon and where businesses can participate, it can work. There's more time for Q&A over a longer period, maybe you have more time to work on your application and even polish it.

How have hackathons evolved over the last 10 years?

Brandon: I would say wider adoption and more polished because we have experience, but I think there are so many other things from the ins and outs to how one puts [hackathons] together.

Jon: Organizers of both in-person and digital events had to rethink all the different ways that their events work. It feels like we're, in some ways, reinventing a lot of how hackathons work in the last year or two. This comes down to the theme. It comes down to the value for attendees. It comes down to the communities around it. It comes down to the challenges.

Swift: Ten years ago, when you could be at every event, your developer evangelist could be the expert in [your tool]. Today, if you can't have that person there, you need better documentation. You need a free tier that somebody can sign up for. You need to have some kind of digital community to be able to answer questions.

These more remote, hands-off tooling and approaches need to be a baseline part of any strategy. We went from being driven around individuals who are part of this community, who are there shepherding developers to use your technology, and now it's a movement. It's something that's a requirement for every developer in the world to do at this point.

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What advice do you have for developer relations professionals or any company that supports developers?

Brandon: Hackathons are part of a larger strategy. You're not going to just run one hackathon and that'll be it. At the end of the day, if people want to get somebody to build, or inspire them to build, that's where hackathons have to come into play.

One data point on that—we talk about the click-to-build ratio, which is if you click to register for a hackathon, and then you go on to spend days, weeks, or months building. With virtual competitions, we often see that between five and 33% of the people who click to learn about a global competition will go make something. So, if an organization feels that it's really important to their strategy to get people to build, then I think hackathons are a must.

Have you noticed a shift in how hackathons are used across generations?

Jon: One interesting observation, having worked with a lot of DevRel professionals who used to be prolific hackathon attendees, is the difference in perspective and strategy when you are participating in a hackathon versus promoting a platform at hackathons in a marketing or DevRel position. Marketing and DevRel have multiple touchpoints that are required to hit your success metrics in a lot of cases.

Swift: It's about repetition. If you continue to introduce participants to your technology and tell them what it is and the benefits, the likelihood they're going to pick it up increases, and the likelihood it becomes a default tool and someone's tool belt increases as well.

We have a 10-year study of sponsor technology adoption. We found that the technologies that were present at hackathons are incredibly sticky with developers when they learn them. We were able to show that over a 10-year time horizon, developers preferred a specific cloud platform that was being promoted by MLH at those events, almost two to one compared to their peers in future cohorts, where it was a different partner. Not only that, but it was sticky for years after graduation.

We also found that about 37% of our alumni had introduced a technology that they learned at a hackathon into production at work at their first job out of school.

How do you think the hackathon landscape is going to change over the next 10 years?

Brandon: I think that it's going to be a function of where technology is heading. And that AI is such an important part of that.

I think that software development will only get bigger and more accessible. As a result of these technologies, I think there are going to be more people joining hackathons. There are going to be more people making stuff. There'll be more people making applications the same way that it has happened with the internet, mobile phones, and others.