Have you ever thought about attending a hackathon, but felt a bit intimidated? You're not alone. However, you can rest assured that these events are not just for coding wizards.
In fact, there are plenty of hackathons out there that are perfect for beginners. And these gatherings are about more than simply endless coding; they're also about education, connections, and, most importantly — having fun and winning prizes.
When we talk about novice-friendly hackathons, we're looking at events that are welcoming and accessible to all, regardless of your coding prowess. You’ll also find support through mentors, workshops, and resources that make your hackathon experience less unnerving and more exciting. And guess what? These diverse options span across continents, from Europe to America, and are even available online for global access.
So, whether you're in Barcelona or Boston, or prefer to participate from the comfort of your couch, there's a hackathon out there waiting for you.
What are hackathons?
But first, let's break down what a hackathon really is. Imagine a space where people from various backgrounds come together to transform ideas into reality, all within a limited time frame. It's a bit like a brainstorming session on steroids.
Today, hackathons have grown into large events that bring together computer programmers, software developers, graphic designers, and other technology enthusiasts. These individuals typically gather for 24-48 hours, forming teams to work on a common focus or challenge. The atmosphere is electric — expect a fusion of intense collaboration, creativity, and a race against the clock.
But it's not all about the competition. Hackathons are a goldmine, especially when it comes to beginners. They're a playground for skill development, where you can learn new coding languages or design techniques hands-on. What’s more, they are a great opportunity to network — connecting you with like-minded individuals, mentors, and even potential employers. And let's not forget the real-world experience you gain, which can be a game-changer for your resume or portfolio.
If you're curious about the specifics of these events, check out our "What is a Hackathon? The Hackathon Guide" to learn more. Next up, we’ll share with you some opportunities where you can dip your toes in and attend your first hackathon.
1. CODE100 - Europe's Ultimate Coding Competition
Location: Amsterdam | Date: Coming soon | Prize: €10k and a test ride in a Rimac Nevera
CODE100, launched last year, has quickly become a premier live coding competition in Europe, organised by WeAreDevelopers. After a successful debut in Berlin with over 3,000 developers, it is now set to captivate Amsterdam.
CODE100 is a unique event that focuses exclusively on coding challenges catering to various skills, including beginners. The competition intensifies through an elimination format, culminating in a final showdown at the WeAreDevelopers World Congress 2024. The ultimate winner not only claims a significant prize but also captures the spotlight in the developer community. Beyond the competition, CODE100 is a platform for developers across Europe to connect, compete, and celebrate their coding prowess — all while engaging a live audience in this unique event format.
2. HackMIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Location: MIT Campus | Date: January 26-28, 2024 | Prize: General prizes, a beginner prize, and four track-specific prizes
HackMIT — one of the biggest hackathons in the US — annually attracts over 1,000 students worldwide. This immersive, weekend-long event is sponsored by influential names like Rockstar and Y Combinator, allowing undergraduates to collaborate on software and hardware projects across four key tracks: sustainability, education, interactive media, and health and accessibility. This year, esteemed speakers like Ali Partovi and Sara Du will inspire participants with their insights. And, teams — up to four members — can compete for various prizes, including a special award for beginners.
HackMIT is a full experience with beginner workshops, mentorship, and networking opportunities. Open to college undergraduates and MIT M.Eng students, the event promises an engaging, supportive environment, complete with meals and accommodation arrangements for those travelling.
3. Hoya Hacks 2024 (Georgetown University)
Date: January 26-28, 2024 | Location: Georgetown University | Prize: To be announced
Hoya Hacks 2024, powered by Cloudforce, returns to Georgetown University's annual hackathon, focusing on technology innovation. This event invites students from Georgetown and other institutions to form teams of 2-4 to collaborate. Over three days, they'll immerse themselves in a 36-hour challenge, creating hardware and software projects with a theme centred on doing social good. Welcoming participants of all skill levels, this hackathon offers workshops and talks to enhance the learning experience.
This year's event — blending in-person engagement with a virtual option and themes in Web3, Blockchain/AI-Machine Learning — promises an exciting competition, culminating in awards for standout projects.
4. MHacks (University of Michigan)
Date: January 27-28, 2024 | Location: McGill University | Prize: To be announced
McHacks 11, taking place at McGill University, is an in-person hackathon open to students from diverse backgrounds and skill levels — usually bringing together over 500 brilliant young minds at a time. Participation is free, and the event caters to every skill level, from junior coders to seasoned programmers. The event, running from Saturday 8 AM to Sunday 4 PM, emphasises inclusivity and offers beginner-friendly workshops and mentorship to ease newcomers into the tech world. Teams, which can include up to four members, benefit from a mix of coding talent, presentation prowess, and innovative thinking.
5. NASA Space Apps Challenge
Date: Every October (2-day event) | Location: Online and in-person events, globally | Prize: Various prizes to be announced
The NASA International Space Apps Challenge is a global hackathon that unites a mix of coders, scientists, designers, and enthusiasts from various fields. Since its launch in 2012, the event has seen remarkable growth, now drawing over 40,000 participants to more than 250 local virtual events in 87 countries. Held annually in October, this two-day event offers both in-person and virtual formats. Participants — ranging from seasoned experts to curious beginners — use NASA's open data to address challenges on Earth and in space.
This hackathon is designed for everyone, also welcoming those who have never participated in a hackathon before. It's an arena where students, lifelong learners, and passionate problem solvers converge. Participants register as individuals and then form teams, often finding that groups with a variety of skills are the most successful. Essentially, the Space Apps Challenge is a global platform for learning, innovation, and connecting with a community dedicated to understanding our planet and universe — offering various prizes, and the events are free to join.
6. Junction - Europe's Leading Hackathon
Hack Junction organises hackathons and varied tech events — both online and in-person — where developers, designers, and tech enthusiasts get together to tackle challenges and innovate. Partnering with about 60 companies each year, Hack Junction offers events filled with intriguing problems and the latest technology. Keep an eye out for the following beginner-friendly, in-person hackathons organised by them yearly:
Solve the SDGs 2024
Held on March 22-24, 2024, in Helsinki at Solve the SDGs, you’ll get to create solutions for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This gathering is beginner-friendly as it welcomes participants from all backgrounds, not just those with technical skills. It encourages the development of innovative concepts or products that aid sustainability, making it ideal for anyone passionate about global issues, regardless of their experience level. While the specifics of the prizes are not detailed at this point, the event is known for rewarding creative and impactful ideas.
Nexus 2024 by Junction
Nexus 2024, happening on April 18, 2024, also in Helsinki, stands out as beginner-friendly because it prioritizes innovative thinking over prior hacking or tech experience and is open to all high school students in Finland. Here, participants can submit various ideas, from simple concepts to apps, and receive mentorship throughout the event. This makes Nexus 2024 a perfect opportunity for young, aspiring tech enthusiasts to get involved with technology and innovation in a nurturing environment.
After checking out these amazing hackathon options, you might wonder what other exciting events are waiting for you. So, why not dive a little deeper? For a detailed guide to hackathons specifically for developers, have a peek at "Top 6 Hackathons for Developers in 2023". It's jam-packed with info on the must-attend tech events of the year — you won't want to miss them!
How to prepare for your first hackathon?
Beware, attending your first hackathon might actually feel like landing on a new planet. But, fear not! With the correct perspective and preparation, you can make this experience a stepping stone to success as well as a great experience. Here are some important recommendations for beginners:
1. Embrace teamwork: Hackathons are all about collaboration. You will be a member of a team, so be prepared to share ideas, listen, and contribute equally. Remember that a team's strength lies in its diversity of ideas and talents.
2. Maintain an open mind: You may discover new concepts, tools, and possibly even languages. Approach them with interest rather than anxiety. The learning curve may be severe, but it is also extremely rewarding.
3. Active learning is key: Dive into hands-on sessions, participate in discussions, and don't be afraid to ask questions. The more you participate, the more you'll benefit from the experience.
4. Plan and prioritise: Hackathons can be stressful. Having a clear plan and identifying priorities for your goals will help you stay focused.
5. Take care of yourself: Remember to take pauses, remain hydrated, and eat properly. Keeping your energy levels up is essential for retaining attention and creativity.
Maximising the Hackathon Experience
And finally, how do you make your participation even more enriching and memorable? Maximising your time at a hackathon involves more than just learning; it also entails developing new relationships and absorbing a variety of perspectives.
Consider these tips to help you completely embrace and get the most out of your hackathon experience:
Tip #1: Engage with mentors
Most hackathons feature a panel of mentors who are seasoned professionals in their fields. These mentors are invaluable resources for guidance, feedback, and deeper insights into the tech world. Make the most of their presence by asking specific questions, seeking advice on your project, and even discussing career paths.
Don’t forget mentors are there because they want to help — so don't be shy about approaching them. Their counsel has the potential to open your eyes and spur personal development.
Tip #2: Network, network, network
One of the greatest benefits of hackathons is the opportunity to build a network. Interact not just with fellow participants but also with organisers and sponsors because they all come from diverse backgrounds and can offer different viewpoints and opportunities.
Networking goes beyond exchanging contact information; it's about sharing ideas, learning from others' experiences, and creating relationships that could lead to collaborations, job opportunities, or mentorships in the future. So, be genuine in your interactions and be sure to show interest in what others are doing.
Tip #3: Apply your skills
Hackathons are the perfect testing ground for everything you've learned. Whether you're coding, designing, or developing strategies, actively apply your skills to the challenges at hand. This practical application is crucial for cementing your knowledge and improving your abilities. And, don't worry about getting everything perfect — hackathons are learning experiences, and every mistake or challenge is an opportunity to grow. Focus on how you can contribute to your team, and don't be afraid to experiment with new ideas or techniques you've just learned.
Following the event, make sure to reflect on what you've learned and how you can apply it in the real world.
Enter your first hackathon
Participating in beginner-friendly hackathons goes beyond enhancing technical abilities; it's your opportunity to cultivate essential life skills such as teamwork and problem-solving. And, you’ll get to compete for prizes, which adds a rewarding dimension to your learning and innovation efforts. In a nutshell, they are an ideal mix of personal development and practical rewards in a collaborative, creative environment.
And speaking of opportunities, don't forget about CODE100 — Europe's Ultimate Coding Competition. This beginner-friendly hackathon is your gateway to a community of tech enthusiasts, mentors, potential employers — and huge prizes. Interested? Find out more and register here.