Hackathons are widely acknowledged to be very good value for companies that support and sponsor them. They help to encourage innovation in several different ways, including through bringing in new talent and new ideas. Especially in older, more established firms, the benefits of shaking up the culture slightly cannot be overestimated.
Hackathons are also very good for the data scientists who attend them. Employers are now starting to recognise that sending data scientists to a hackathon is far more valuable than a team-building awayday. Hackathon attendees get experience of working together on real data, using their own or new tools, all under time pressure: Much more realistic than team-building exercises. Hackathons are great for companies and data scientists, but are they also good for students? The answer is, as you might expect, a resounding yes.
Hackathons offer great learning and development opportunities
First and foremost, hackathons are amazing places to learn. Whether that be about new technology, languages or frameworks. Some hackathons focus on one particular API or technology platform, which will help you to develop your skills and knowledge in that area. Others have a more general focus, but you could try putting together a team with people who have skills in other languages, to help you explore the basics of those languages. You don’t even need to know the others well, as long as you all embark on the experience with the same willingness to learn and experiment.First and foremost, #hackathons are amazing places to learn #sasacademic #DataScience Click To Tweet
You can also find opportunities to test the latest cool gadgets before you buy. Places where technology experts meet are likely to offer plenty of chances to check out the newest pieces of kit, and people are happy to share their enthusiasm for their new toy, or even explain its drawbacks. Asking for personal reviews from owners will also help you get to know more people.
And while we’re on the subject of people, hackathons are great places to expand your network. Your network is not just about getting you a job in future, though that is an important element. It is also about finding people who will be able to help you solve problems in future — and vice versa — and support you as you expand your skills and experience. Hackathons will allow you to connect with potential mentors, possible employers, and also work alongside fellow data scientists. Whilst a hackathon often has quite a specific focus, you can be sure that you will be connecting with people with similar interests to you, whether that is blockchain or healthcare. You could even expand your horizons — and your interests — by attending a hackathon in a new field.
A realistic work situation
The nature of a hackathon also offers opportunities to learn; not necessarily technical skills, but more about the way that you work, and particularly how you react under pressure. The time and resource constraints are very similar to those encountered in real-life projects. The situation is made even more challenging if you are working with new people. Learning to adapt and be agile are useful skills that will be helpful in any business environment.#Hackathon offers opportunities to learn more about the way you work and react under pressure #sasacademic #DataScience Click To Tweet
Working in a team also gives you insights into several aspects: How you react to other people, and how other people react to you, but also how you think. It is easy to get stuck in a rut of thinking in one particular way, especially when you are not exposed to others’ thinking. Students do a lot of work by themselves — it is in the nature of student assignments — and working with others can quickly show you new ways of working, and open your mind to new ideas.
Capitalising on hackathons
The learning and development opportunities, not to mention the networking, would therefore be enough to justify attending hackathons as a student. But the prizes on offer provide another dimension that can be well worth the trouble. Of course, winning prizes looks great on your CV. But the prize itself can sometimes be a course or a certification that will boost your CV still further. Not just learning, but a qualification too!
It should therefore be clear that students can gain a lot from hackathons. Universities certainly recognise that: For example, the University of Technology Sydney is so impressed with the learning available that it has introduced hackathons onto several data science-related courses. Students at other institutions may have to make more effort to get involved in hackathons. If they do so, however, they are likely to see a range of benefits, and probably far more than they were expecting. The effort will be well worth while.