Why Product Managers Should Start Joining Hackathons

Hackathons aren’t just for developers and designers anymore.

Written by Aminata Jalloh
Published on Nov. 14, 2023
Why Product Managers Should Start Joining Hackathons
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In today’s fast-paced world, technology has become the driving force behind business transformation as companies seek to meet changing consumer expectations and industry standards. Product managers play an important role in this dynamic environment; our career tasks us with identifying strategic opportunities and driving technical innovations.

Hackathons have become a popular tool in the tech industry to foster innovation. They bring together professionals from various backgrounds to work together and create solutions within a short period. While hackathons are typically associated with developers and designers, they can also hold tremendous value for product managers.

3 benefits of hackathons for product managers

  1. Exercising your creative muscles.
  2. Developing your skills.
  3. Building and strengthening your network.

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What Is a Hackathon?

A hackathon is an event where individuals or teams collaborate and compete to solve specific problems, create innovative solutions or develop new software or hardware projects within a time-bound period, which might range from a few hours to a few weeks.

Hackathons are commonly hosted by colleges, businesses or organizations with the goal of encouraging innovation and problem solving. Participants often include software developers and designers who engage in brainstorming ideas and crafting functional prototypes or projects to address the given challenge. Following the hackathon, participants present their projects to a panel of judges or the broader community, who recognize or award a prize to the most promising or innovative solutions.


Why Should a Product Manager Join a Hackathon?

While developers and designers are familiar with hackathons, many product managers have not had the opportunity to participate in one and may not be familiar with it. As a product manager, I often find myself absorbed in the strategic aspects of product development.

This kind of attention to detail is important in the day-to-day life of a product manager, but the hands-on, rapid prototyping nature of hackathons can provide benefits to product managers outside of their everyday work, including:

  • Enhancing creativity: The competitive and time-sensitive nature of hackathons compels participants to come up with novel solutions.
  • Continued skill development: These events provide a unique learning environment in which product managers can learn new skills, experiment with developing technologies and receive feedback quickly, all while working on real-world problems.
  • Networking: Hackathons bring professionals from many companies together, offering a platform for building and strengthening networks. Product managers can learn from others’ experiences and make connections that can further their careers. Engage with other participants, mentors and judges, and connect with them on social media platforms such as LinkedIn. Maintain these connections by checking in periodically and celebrating each other’s accomplishments.


How To Find Hackathons

When looking for hackathons to participate in, keep your personal interests and skills in mind to identify which hackathons offer the best opportunity to develop your skills and help narrow down the list of hackathons to apply for. At some hackathons, people present a variety of projects and ideas, while other hackathons focus on a specific topic. To ensure that the hackathon is worth your investment, consider the reputation of the event organizers as well as the time commitment involved.

You can find hackathon events to participate in through online channels, including dedicated platforms and forums such as Devpost, LinkedIn and Eventbrite. Additionally, university and college websites, meetup groups, social media platforms, tech conferences and local tech incubators and accelerators often host hackathons. Exploring these avenues will broaden your options and increase your chances of finding the perfect hackathon to participate in.

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How To Make the Most of Hackathons

While participating in a hackathon can be a rewarding experience for a product manager, it’s important to approach it strategically. Here are some tips for a product manager (or anyone, really) going to their first hackathon:


Ask questions

Don’t hesitate to ask questions, whether seeking clarity on the challenge, brainstorming with your hackathon team or trying to understand a new technical approach. Hackathons are a safe space to exercise your existing product management skills and learn new ones.


Engage with your community

Interact with the broad hackathon community. Consider creating a blog or making social media posts that chronicle your hackathon journey. This not only helps you reflect on your journey but can also inspire non-traditional hackathon participants to join the event.


Develop a post-hackathon plan

Strategize what you’ll do after the hackathon. Consider how you can incorporate the skills, ideas or solutions you’ve developed into your daily work or personal projects. I use a three-step approach. First, I reflect on my experience and identify areas for improvement. Second, I choose learning resources that support my progress, such as courses, workshops or learning communities. Finally, I update my portfolio and resume by including details about the hackathon project. As a bonus, I may also share my experience externally via blogs or speaking engagements.

Getting outside of your comfort zone and practicing iterative design and creative thinking can be the key to becoming a truly remarkable product manager. So, are you ready to step it up and join your local hackathon?

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