While the arguments rage on over whether a traditional four-year college education is necessary anymore, or whether it is worth risking incurring the debt for that education, those seeking jobs in various tech sectors, especially related to coding, have a bit of an advantage in job hunting. It’s the hackathon, and more are taking advantage of it, seeking a variety of benefits. Depending on the employer and the skill sets involved, college degrees can become irrelevant when the right match is made at a hackathon, or coding competition.
Well-regarded employers like Facebook often send recruiters to hackathons to observe participants’ skills and make job offers, according to this Mashable piece. Now, outside recruiters and career networking sites like Readyforce are honing in on hackathons more intently, as well, to help skilled job seekers and employers connect. Readyforce CEO Alex Mooradian is quoted as saying, “There’s a wave of companies saying, 'All we’re doing is hackathons; that’s the only thing that we care about right now because those are the students we know are going to make an immediate impact.” Hackathons often cater to college students, but some also include high school students.
ITWorld.com has a detailed list of seven ways to increase your chances of winning a job offer at a hackathon, which is the real prize (though winning the competition would likely impress some employers, as well):
Demonstrating leadership during the contest is crucial: At the January 2014 GlobalHack contest, Sam Cummings didn’t win, but he lead his team through the loss of members and other roadblocks, and received a job offer from startup TopOpps for his leadership ability.
It isn’t always about who wins the competition: A 17-year IBM employee demonstrated that he could create a working prototype for the competition, all by himself.
Understand why observers are present, and what they are doing there: One of the TopOpps founders acted as a judge for the competition, invited several participants to attend a private networking event after the hackathon, and then hired a 10-person dev team from that group. He was at the event to shorten his hiring process.
Job opportunities can be better than the prize purse: That 17-year veteran of IBM did not enter the competition looking for a job offer, but wanted a new experience. However, he received an attractive offer from TopOpps after his performance, and made the jump.
Think globally and enter contests elsewhere: About a quarter of the participants at this particular hackathon came in from out of town. One who received a job offer from TopOpps was not from the area, and is now working remotely for the startup, from his home city.
The community is what you make of it: Participants said the ability to push themselves to work under pressure, collaboratively and creatively, was valuable personally and for their current jobs, as well.
Understand the problem set domain before you come to the contest: Participants who did well had done a little research or had work experience relevant to the hackathon project. If one isn’t the right fit for you, another will be.
These hackathon events are not only for coders; data scientists, designers and others can also find competitions that will help them hone or demonstrate skills. RelateIQ VP of Product DJ Patil writes at Techcrunch of the value for college students of attending as many as they can during the summer months, especially if they have not secured an internship. Make the hackathons your own internship, he recommends. More tips from Patil: See if you can find a hackathon sponsored by the company you are interested in working or interning for; make choices that will stretch your skills; ask for help and feedback; work on a team and network, network, network; meet the sponsors and judges and network some more.