Participant Resources

User Story: Hackathon tips from Nathan, a 22-time winner

Here’s a look at how Nathan has managed to win an impressive 22 hackathons.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into fintech.

I’ve been very curious since I was a child—I was the kid who disassembled toys and electronics in an attempt to find the “magic” behind the technology. As I grew older in Brazil, I continued to seek ways where my curiosity could be put to good use. This search led me to pursue a Bachelor’s in Computer Science at the University of Central Florida, which enabled me to not only understand technology, but also participate in creating technology through projects, hackathons, research, and business opportunities. I’m now pursuing a Master’s in Financial Technologies while building solutions that improve accessibility, customization, and democratization of financial services.

(Check out Nathan’s Devpost profile to see his portfolio of winning projects.)

What initially inspired you to start participating in hackathons, and how has this journey evolved over time?

It all started with my first hackathon, SwampHacks VI, at the University of Florida. There, I assembled a team with other hackers to build Solace, a disaster relief SMS assistant for times when the internet was not accessible. The thrill of using new technologies to develop something that could have a real-world impact got me hooked. The entire experience, from ideation to execution and then pitching the finished product to a panel of judges within 36 hours, was mind-blowing. After interacting with multiple sponsors, talking to other teams, and then being announced winners in the “first-time” hacker category, I realized that I needed to continue doing hackathons. 

Who wouldn’t want to hack straight for the whole weekend while being surrounded by bright individuals?

Following SwampHacks, I kept participating in hackathons every month, traveling to new cities, and meeting new people. During my hackathon journey, I’ve accumulated participation in 40 hackathons with over 30 unique awards.

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How have hackathons impacted your life and career path?

Hackathons have been nothing short of a transformative experience in my life and career. Each event that I’ve participated in has been a way to develop my skills, broaden my perspectives, and experiment with new technologies while connecting with talented individuals and industry leaders. Every challenge that I’ve endured increases my resilience, patience, and creativity. 

Hackathons reinforce my passion for the creation of technologies that can have a positive impact on others.

What does winning hackathons mean to you personally, and how does it feel to be recognized for your work?

Winning hackathons feels good, but it's not the most important part. It shows that all the hard work, creative thinking, and team effort have paid off. However, I care more about the experience itself—learning new things, working with others, and bringing ideas to life.

What advice would you give to someone considering participating in their first hackathon?

Start with clarity by writing down your goals and expectations. Allocate how much time you'd like to dedicate to different aspects of the event—be it developing the project, networking, attending workshops, or simply enjoying the fun activities. When it comes to your project, remember, it's perfectly fine to start simple. Using 'sample' or 'hardcoded' data to demonstrate your idea can still make a strong impact. The key is brainstorming topics that match you and your team, something you're genuinely passionate about. This focus will guide your project development and make the entire hackathon experience more fulfilling.

How can individuals make the most out of their hackathon experience and increase their chances of success?

Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm!

Aligning with your previously set goals is crucial to maximizing your hackathon experience and boosting your chances of success. Now, when it comes to project development, focus on brainstorming, brainstorming, and brainstorming. Explore ideas within the hackathon’s theme or categories, then decide the technologies they will require to develop them. 

During the brainstorming phase, one strategy to set your team apart is anticipating what others might be developing. For instance, if you’re focusing on Generative AI and aware of the trend toward chatbots, push the boundaries by considering alternative interfaces like voice or graphical interactions. This approach showcases innovation and demonstrates your team’s ability to think outside the box and address the hackathon's challenge from a unique angle. 

While the technical aspects of the project are crucial, how the project is presented often carries more weight in terms of winning. The project description, visuals, and presentation itself are critical components. Convincing the judges of the project's value and impact—essentially "selling your fish"—is often what leads to success in hackathons.

What is your strategy for finalizing your project and preparing your submission, including documentation, demos, and presentations?

I like to focus on standing out and often emphasize the importance of enhancing submissions by incorporating GIFs and embedding images within the text to grab the judges’ attention. I like to use markdown formatting to emphasize keywords and improve the overall readability and appeal of the description. 

I think it’s a good idea to prepare backup videos to ensure the showcase of the project works out if technical issues arise. When creating video demos, a good rule of thumb is to spend 60% of the time explaining and 40% actually demoing. Ensure your voice is clear and it’s not too fast for the judges.

Ideally, I recommend dedicating at least 15% of the hackathon’s timeframe to polishing up the submission.

What are your future plans or goals regarding hackathons or tech-related projects?

Looking ahead, I plan to continue experimenting with emerging technologies, crafting innovative solutions, and contributing to the tech space. My goal is to develop projects that go beyond the hackathon environment, evolving into scalable solutions that can reach and benefit a broader audience. I aim to create impactful and meaningful technology that addresses real-world challenges, aiming to bring these projects to market. 

Are you feeling inspired to build something amazing? Check out our hackathons happening now!