During the last couple of years, we have participated in face-to-face, hybrid as well as online hackathons, which were arranged by several higher education institutions in Europe. We have had the privilege of organising hackathons and coaching the participants in many of them. All of these entrepreneurial hackathons saw the participation of nearly a hundred participants, lasted two to three days, and focused on validating ideas and drafting business models.
Having experienced these different forms of hackathons, we have few ideas to share. Following are some advantages and disadvantages of online hackathons based on our experience.
Flexibility: One of the biggest advantages of having the hackathon online is the flexibility to participate from anywhere and connect with anyone. This gives an opportunity to share, collaborate and develop ideas across different countries.
Developing digital skills: There is a need to develop digital skills for work life. People learn to collaborate using online tools, which provides hands-on experience to the participants familiarizing themselves with different digital tools and platforms.
Networking: Online hackathons provide an opportunity for participants to connect and network internationally, and to exchange ideas and develop them. They also allow interactions among people from different countries and nationalities.
Cost efficiency: The online events are quite cost effective compared to face-to-face hackathons, which comparatively are more expensive, require the organisers to rent space, and organise the budget for food/drinks and other related expenses.
Disadvantages and tips on how to eliminate them
Team formation: One of the biggest challenges that we experienced during the online hackathon was team formation. Networking online was challenging and participants faced some difficulties. We anticipated these challenges and tried to solve them by matching the teams as per their interests before the hackathon.
Unfamiliar digital tools: Unfamiliarity with digital tools is one of the biggest hindrances to execute a smooth online hackathon. Some platforms being new to the participants caused confusion. It took time to solve instant issues that are generally solved effortlessly in face-to-face events. Therefore, it is important to offer training and familiarise the participants with new online tools beforehand.
Trust building: We witnessed that building trust was way easier in face-to-face hackathons compared to the online ones. Online events cannot replace in-person interaction. Face-to face interaction is generally more effective in establishing stronger bonds. Time for online bonding has to be set aside.
Clarity: One of the vital tasks for organising a successful online hackathon is planning and delivering better instructions to the participants beforehand. It is important to devise a clearer and more defined path of instructions for them to follow. Better instructions result in the better execution of the online hackathon.
Other challenges: We also experienced a lack of awareness of GDPR issues, insufficient resources to support the digital tools, poor internet connections, mismatches during collaboration due to differences in the use of tools, and so on.
There are some clear advantages of online hackathons and the disadvantages can be avoided by awareness and good preparation. However, our preference will always be a face-to-face hackathon as there is nothing like a live human experience.
Would you like to share your experiences of online hackathons? What kind of hackathons do you prefer?