I enjoy hackathons. They force us to complete a project and present it no matter what state it's in. This is the main reason I participate. It forces me to just code and whatever I get done I must present. It contrasts my normal approach to projects, which is to polish to no end and eventually lose interest in the project.
In the past year, I've been participating in online hackathons. Here is my devpost if you are curious. I've now experienced both online and in person hackathons. I can say without a doubt that in person is so much more fun. Although online hackathons are more accessible, I would much prefer to attend a local hackathon. When you're online, you don't make the same connection with your peers, especially if you don't know them beforehand. It makes the experience feel disconnected. Additionally, you don't make a good connection with the judges, especially when the submission is in video format. Half the fun is presenting to a judge right in front of you with the past 24 hours of work hanging in the balance of this 2 minute presentation. It's good practice for life in general, and I don't feel you get the same experience online. Online hackathons do have one big advantage, and that's capacity. They can have virtually infinite contestants from anywhere in the world. This does bring quite a bit of diversity to the table.
In-Person Hackathons have their own dynamic. For one, the interactions. You get to interact with the people physically around you. Most people there will be like minded so it's easy to get lost in a conversation with anyone there. I don't find you get the same interaction with other groups online, even with the networking activities in place. Another fun thing about being in-person is the food! Most hackathons will serve free food and have perfectly timed late-late night snacks.
Some people will just show up to a hackathon with a blank slate. No team or idea. This is okay! I've done this before and it can be fun, but I've decided that I prefer having a premade team before the hackathon. This doesn't mean I will be with my friends though. Sometimes you can network with fellow hackers before the hackathon. This is a great way to find new people and network! As for ideas, well, this is my one grime with hackathons. Your starting idea is very important if you are looking to win. Not everyone does and that's okay, just have fun. I have never joined a hackathon with one set idea. I usually boil down a list of ideas, or come up with new ideas at the hackathon. Admittedly, this is not a great way to do it. It usually causes me stress during the hackathon and eats up valuable time where I'm rested. Coming up with an idea is surprisingly hard, especially one the judges will like. Another issue with ideas is that specifically during Covid, a lot of teams were making unoriginal projects related to Covid. A surprising amount of teams just won by simply displaying an
iframe of a Covid heat map. In my opinion, there should have been a category for Covid hacks so that all the top places aren't littered with Covid hacks.
In my opinion, online hackathons are not as fun or rewarding as in-person ones. I don't think I will be participating in many more online ones. However, once things open back up in my region, I will be attending as many hackathons as possible in person! The best hackathons are the ones where you go with all your friends and have a killer idea. Those end up being pure fun. I would recommend anyone who hasn't tried hackathons to go out and try an in-person one with friends once things are opened back up. It will be well worth it.