Lessons I Learned From Judging Canada's Biggest Hackathon

Last January, I was a judge and mentor at Hack the North — Canada’s Biggest Hackathon organized by the University of Waterloo. I had a fantastic time in my role and our team reviewed and judged 48 projects in the track: Hack for Social Good challenge.
Note: This article includes my personal takeaways, my thoughts on the purpose of a hackathon, and some tips for those who participate in hackathons.

What does it mean to succeed at hackathons? Making a new friend? Learning new skills? Building the project? Having fun? Winning a prize

Hackathons are great places to build projects, learn new technologies, practice coding. You will try out a lot of great APIs and writing a lot of code in a short period of time. Hackathons also are great places to learn new ideas or technology innovations. You will have a chance to watch many ideas from other participants, present your ideas, and receive great feedback from mentors. Especially, you will interact and collaborate with each other to share ideas and find solutions to some of the world’s pressing challenges and make the world a better place by technology. You should not be going to a hackathon with the mentality of winning that defeats the purpose of a hackathon. It’s meant to be a fun experience, not a competitive or stressful one.

Building projects effectively at hackathons

1. Using a design thinking framework and trying to come up with as many ideas and features as you can.
2. Focusing on the main features of your projects
Although you are building a project not a product, you should apply the concept of a minimum viable product to develop only the core functionalities to solve a specific problem.
3. Some questions for project self-evaluation:
- Does the project address a clear need, problem, or opportunity, and is the solution clearly explained?
- Does the project use APIs and include innovations in technical design and/or implementation of services?
- Does the project have a clear target market or audience?
- Is the project's purpose and basic functionality easily understood?
- Does the project have a professional degree of production in terms of performance, user interface, visuals, and audio?
4. Trying to make projects more inclusiveness.

Common mistakes to avoid while participating in a hackathon

After reviewing 48 projects, I realized that participants have some common mistakes that caused the deduction of the projects' points.
1. Lack of GitHub repository link or source code link
2. Lack of demo video or presentation video
3. There was creative ideas but had no execution just Figma slides or images
4. Many features in ideas but had no execution
5. Not following the rule of track challenges. For example, not using the APIs service of track challenge.