Hackathons are becoming popular ways to solve business problems and are being used to circumvent the traditional interview and hiring process. This is especially popular for new businesses that host a startup hackathon to gain employees and develop new ideas. There is also an increase in hosting hackathons that focus on creating virtual reality experiences.

A data science hackathon may be just what your company needs to solve your real-life business problem and acquire some new talent at the same time. There are several benefits to hosting hackathons, and this guide will show you exactly how to organize and host a data science hackathon.

What is a data science hackathon?

In broad terms, a hackathon is where you bring people together to solve a designated problem. They can tackle any real-world problem, and anyone can participate.

However, data science hackathons are a specific type of hackathon that focuses on showing off technical skills to solve a problem. These are geared toward coders, programmers, data science enthusiasts, and people with other high-level technical skills. These people are often looking for a deep learning experience. They may also be skilled in data visualization and could help you understand your data better.

Benefits of hosting a hackathon for data science

Your business can benefit in several ways by hosting a data science hackathon.

Benefit 1: Gain new employees

Recruiting new employees by traditional means can take forever. You have to sift through many applications just to find people who may be a good fit. Then, you have to go through a lengthy interview process, at which point you may still not end up with a good fit.

A data science hackathon is a great way for you to find new people with high technical skills. Host a data hackathon and put out an open call for anyone to participate. Those with the applicable skills will come to you, and you can see their technical skills in action. Anyone you are interested in could show you their data science portfolio to show off their data science skills. This will show you how good of a match they are for your company. This speeds up the hiring process tremendously.

Benefit 2: Improve your business

If you have a technical problem that your employees can't seem to solve, it may be time to bring in a fresh set of eyes for a new perspective. As mentioned, it can take forever to find a new employee, so skip those steps and organize a hackathon.

The hackathon you organize will focus on the issue you are having. This way, you have a bunch of people all working towards a solution. At the end of the hackathon, there is a good chance you have a solution to your problem and can recruit new talent as needed.

Hosting a hackathon also shows your employees that you value change and new ideas. This can help create a positive ecosystem where employees offer ideas on ways to improve the company.

Benefit 3: Good PR

A hackathon is a great way to get your business in the spotlight. Hosting a hackathon where you send out a general invitation to the public means your advertisement is likely to flit across the eyes of many people. Even if they are not interested in participating in your hackathon, your business is now in their brain. This means they are more likely to look into your products or services.

How to run a data science hackathon: A full 5-step guide

If you're looking for a guide for a data science hackathon for beginners, you have come to the right place.

Step 1: Beginning stages

As you are preparing to plan your hackathon, it is a good idea to reach out to people who have organized hackathons before to get some ideas. Once you have talked with them, you need to decide what problem your hackathon will focus on. 

Many data scientists view hackathons as an algorithm-specific problem where multiple people tackle the same problem with different approaches. This is similar to the Kaggle approach. Others may see it as more of a Design Sprint, a broader, more design-focused approach towards problem-solving.

For instance, maybe you need a new program or script to complete certain tasks, and you want the hackathon attendees to write it. Or, you have a general problem and are looking for different perspectives on how to solve it.


Step 2: Create your pitch document

The next part of organizing your hackathon is to create a document that outlines all the important parts of your hackathon. Here are some things you need to answer and include in your document:

  • What is the goal of your hackathon?
  • What is the theme of your hackathon?
  • Who is participating?
  • What will the participants do?
  • How are winners determined?
  • Do the attendees need access to data or a dataset?
  • What is the timeline for the hackathon? Make sure to consider the events happening on the day or days of the hackathon, along with dates for sign-ups and any pre-event communication.
  • Determine who you need support from and what you are asking them for.

Once you have a solid plan in place, pitch it to your higher-ups and get permission before you send it out into the world.

Step 3: Next steps

Once you have your plan in place, there are a handful of things you want to do as soon as possible:

  • Give your plan to people within the company and collect any questions they ask to create a FAQ sheet. Then, address any issues that come up during this period.
  • Get your marketing team together and create the initial advertisement to get people interested in the hackathon. At this time, you should also create your participant sign-up sheet. You should consider any criteria for signing up and if people should sign up individually or in teams.
  • Determine what prizes you are going to offer.
  • Find and secure your judges for the event.
  • If you are doing the hackathon in person, find a venue to host it. Make sure to consider any electric and internet needs you have.

Step 4: Before the event

Roughly a month before the event, you want to send out your initial advertising for the event. You don't have to open up sign-ups right away, but this gives people a chance to start thinking and block off the day in their calendar.

At this time, you will also want to consider how people are going to submit their work. For example, if you decide to do a virtual hackathon, you will need places online for people to submit their documents. On the other hand, if you are doing it in person, everyone can present, and there isn't a need for submissions.

Three weeks before the event, you will want to open your sign-ups. You may also consider hosting publicity events to get the hackathon noticed.

With one week left until the event, it is your chance for a final push for sign-ups. You may also consider more promotional events and some "how-to" tutorial videos on any tech you use that people may not be familiar with.

Two days before the event, take everyone who signed up and separate them into teams.

Step 5: The day of the event

You want to be around to offer support as needed during the event, but otherwise, you won't necessarily be busy. You can take this time to create a post-event survey. Your survey can be used to ask about anything worrying you about the event, like whether or not it was fun and if instructions were clear. You should also use it to gather suggestions on what would make the hackathon better next time.

At the end of your hackathon, you will need to complete the judging portion and award prizes. 


Common mistakes to avoid when hosting data science hackathons

When hosting a hackathon, especially your first, it can be easy to make mistakes. Here are three examples of mistakes you want to avoid making and how you can easily avoid them.

Mistake 1: No clear problem

If your hackathon lacks a clear problem, it is much less likely your attendees will see success. They need something specific to work towards, or they won't be able to make progress. 

How to prevent mistake 1

This is a simple mistake to avoid. One of the first steps of organizing a hackathon is determining what problem the attendees will be solving. Make sure you have run your problem by several people and continue finessing it until it is clear as it can be.

Mistake 2: Leaving participants alone

The day or days of the hackathon will see team members working studiously together in real-time to solve the problem. However, this doesn't mean they aren't going to need support from time to time. You should have people on hand available to help people with any issues that pop up.

How to prevent mistake 2

This is another mistake that is easy to prevent. When organizing your event, plan for people to act as mentors or monitors to everyone attending. Their purpose during the hackathon should be to check in with teams throughout the day and be available for support as needed.

Mistake 3: Stifling innovation

The trickier part of hackathons is keeping people on track while not stopping them from being innovative. You want to make sure that the attendees are truly working towards solving the problem, not veering off in other directions. However, you need to let the participants be innovative rather than coming up with the same generic ideas as others.

How to prevent mistake 3

You want to encourage your participants to think outside the box while still staying within the scope of the problem. Remind the attendees that they should focus on how their solution differs from solutions others may develop. 

Three inspiring data science hackathon ideas

There are many problems data science hackathons could focus on. Here are three examples of data hackathon ideas.


Idea 1: Collect university information

The college selection process is a challenging and stressful one for many people. Part of this is because it can be difficult to easily find information on different colleges.

A hackathon could address this issue by creating a mobile app that allows college seekers to find all important information about any colleges they desire. Some information it should contain would be:

  • Degrees offered
  • Admissions process
  • Who has partnered with the university
  • Tuition

The app should include all that information and more and have filters people can use to search for universities based on certain aspects like degrees offered. The app should also allow the user to save information they find. 

Idea 2: Hospital data

Hospitals are extremely busy and have a lot of patients coming through. Therefore, it can be difficult to keep all the big data on patients organized and know what to do with the data. 

A hackathon that includes people who work in data engineering could develop an AI-based data processing system to help hospitals study and complete data analysis of patients' medical records. The hackathon attendees should use Deep Neural Networks, machine learning, and robust computational processing to help hospitals streamline workflows and manage their patients better.

Idea 3: Predictive keyboards

There are some programs out there that try to predict what you are going to say and offer suggestions to make typing go faster. However, these programs are far from perfect.

You could use a hackathon to create a new predictive keyboard using AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP). It should consider words that the user frequently uses and consider the context of the conversation to make suggestions on what to type next.

Looking for a good hackathon platform to organize your data science event? Try Hackathon.com

Hosting a hackathon can be stressful, but not if you hire someone to work with. Consider trying Hackathon.com to help you organize your hackathon. We can organize several types of hackathons, including internal, external, and online hackathons. We have a lot of experience running hackathons and have contacts worldwide, so we can make your hackathon everything you want it to be.

Final points on hosting data hackathons

Hackathons are used to solve a problem, whether it is within a business or outside it. A data science hackathon specifically focuses on solving a problem using technology. There are several benefits to hosting a data science hackathon, including gaining employees, improving your business, and acquiring good PR.

There are many things you need to consider when organizing and hosting a hackathon, but it boils down to five periods of time during which you need to complete certain actions. During this period, you will plan out how to avoid three main mistakes when planning your hackathon.

There are many great ideas online to give you a jumping-off point on what problem your hackathon should tackle. Consider using Hackathon.com to organize your hackathon. With our vast experience and connections, we can make your hackathon great.