4 qualities your hackathon mentors must have
By Chatty Garrate.
Hackathons, a combined term for hack and marathon, are popular events in the tech world. The goal of a hackathon is to produce innovations, programs, and developments that can address a certain problem.
Hackathon teams are usually composed of specific groups such as students who get to present their coding projects. Some hackathon events invite seasoned professionals for more complex development.
Hackathons gather some of the best and brightest minds in one event. Based on the challenge categories, teams are tasked to create projects ranging from mobile applications to educational tools to disaster response! Hackathon mentors are assigned to teams to offer advice and assistance during the event.
What’s the role of the mentors?
The mentors provide guidance and support throughout the whole event, whether it’s a warm-up phase or the hackathon itself. We like to describe the mentor as a person of authority and wisdom, an all-knowing light who the participants can rely on while developing their hackathon ideas.
Depending on the event structure and purpose, mentors can be assigned to individual teams. This is one-to-one mentor relationship is what we like to call “vertical mentorship“, a technique usually applied when all the mentors have similar skills and backgrounds. On the other hand, mentors can often have multidisciplinary and heterogeneus skills. Therefore, if this is the case, mentors are assigned “horizontally” and can be contacted by any team at any point in the hackathon.
In both cases, hackathon mentors are tasked with guiding a team towards victory. Their goal is to mentor a team to improve on their ideas, enhance their skills, and troubleshoot problems that may occur.
Who are hackathon mentors?
Mentors usually include senior tech professionals, managers, chief technology and information officers, founders of startup companies, and business strategists. Based on the mentor’s field of expertise, they can provide valuable insights on either technical or non-technical skills.
Mentors who are experts in business strategy can assist teams in tweaking their products to become more appealing to the business sector. Tech professionals can aid teams in troubleshooting technical problems in their projects. Startup founders can help teams improve their originality and design to gain the interest of potential investors and consumers.
Mentors can be:
- Internal: they’re usually directly brought by the company organizining the hackathon. We’re talking about middle management positions.
- External: they’re usually experts in the same fields of the proposed hackathon challenges. For example: scientists, senior software developers, and professors.
Finding the Right Hackathon Mentor
Joining a hackathon is a big challenge, whether it is an offline or online hackathon event. Finding the right hackathon mentor for your team will help you increase your chances of winning. Here are four essential qualities that teams should look for in their hackathon mentor:
1. Experts in their Field
Mentors should be experts in their field. They must be able to provide the best advice and assistance to their teams. There are many experts in each field, so how will you know which mentor is the right one for you?
First, the mentor must align with your team’s vision. What is the objective of your project? Who is your target audience? Experienced mentors can provide insights on developing your project to meet your objectives. Their vast experience can help you gain knowledge that you won’t learn by just reading textbooks.
Second, mentors can help teams generate more ideas to help the project. They can draw solutions from their experience in the field and help teams efficiently delegate their tasks before, during, and after the hackathon event.
Third, and arguably most important, mentors must be able to see the bigger picture. When teams go off track, mentors must be able to reel everyone in and help them focus on the goal. Focusing on one goal at a time has helped many professionals become experts, and experts become mentors.
Communication is crucial during a hackathon. Communication between team members, and between the team and mentors, will lead to a better working relationship. Although mentors usually go around hackathon events guiding several teams, your team needs to have a communication channel with your mentors.
Aside from having an open communication channel, mentors should also know how to communicate with the team. This is an indispensable quality of a mentor. There should be an easy flow and exchange of ideas between team members and mentors. Smooth communication will help get the message across easily and it is one of the best foundations for teamwork and collaboration.
3. Encouraging Attitude
An essential quality to look for in mentors is their ability to encourage the team. Mentoring is not just about imparting knowledge and experience. It is also about encouraging and building the team’s confidence in their abilities. The best mentors should know what their team is capable of and reaffirm their confidence in times of doubt.
4. Ability to Guide
Mentors guide teams to improve their projects. Good mentors can guide their team without overstepping. They are in tune with the team’s objective while also recognizing that it is the team’s project, and they are merely there for guidance.
In case of horizontal mentorship, teams should communicate with several mentors to guide them throughout the event. These mentors must have the sensitivity to step back when they are not needed. Teams will receive advice and suggestions from each mentor, and they will need ample time to process the information and apply it to their project. The best mentors guide their teams but also know their boundaries within the project.
Aside from helping the team win the top prize, hackathon mentors can provide a lot of knowledge from their years of experience in their field. Students and young learners can gain valuable insights into the field of expertise of their mentors. The four qualities listed in this article only serve as a guide for selecting a hackathon mentor. What’s important is that you know what your project is all about – the mentor will only guide you in achieving the best result.
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