Many people regard Hackathons as a luck of the draw, after all it is judged by people who can be finicky at times. Although this is not true. There’s people who consistently perform well on hackathons, and there’s a pretty straightforward preparation strategy on how to get to the podium every time. Here’s how you prepare for SIH:
1. Start Early
Many people naively assume that Hackathons require a clean start (i.e: You begin hacking at the venue). This couldn’t be further from the truth. People play it dirty, I’ve seen hackathons where people just plug in the API of the sponsor into their product (which was made way before the hackathon) . For SIH the problem statements are provided in advance, and you are expected to do most of your work before getting there. At the venue you’ll have all manners of distractions, so don’t even count on getting 50% of the time allotted.
2. Research Papers are really important
This hackathon either has really unusual problem statements that cannot be solved normally, or has seemingly easy problem statements that need an innovative solution to stand out. In both cases, especially for hardware and even software, I’ve found research papers to be really useful to prepare.
Google short phrases related to your product, and you’ll be able to find papers on Google Scholar from IEEE, ACM, or the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office). If a paper is hidden behind a paywall (i.e: You have to pay to access the paper), You can use Sci-Hub (Just copy paste the papers URL into the field, and you’ll be able to download it.
Keep in mind that if you make it through the first round, you’ll have to file an Invention Disclosure Form (IDF) where among other things, you have to cite your research papers. So having that in handy always helps. If you need to use Books, Library Genesis is a good place to download them.
3. Use Youtube
SIH attracts a lot of media attention, and there’s a lot of videos from different centers where the students are questioned on what they made, and the winning teams are interviewed separately. Here’s my video . You can get a lot of insight with these short clips, about how winning teams work.
4. Learn Documentation well
Your whole selection depends on you being able to prove that you can build a PoC (Proof Of Concept) and on convincing the jury that you know your stuff. You will have to make a PPT or PDF of your idea, please do make a rough prototype if you’re doing hardware, if you’re doing software at least make UI mockups of what you intend to do and attach the screenshots in the document, it helps.
5. Avoid the easy problem statements
Some problem statements appear really easy, avoid them as far as possible. The judges can get really specific about what they want with such Problem statements, so you’re better off taking the harder stuff where you have some leeway in what you can build, and there’s lesser competition too. If you see more ambiguous problem statements, they are good too. Just be wary that you’ll have to narrow it down to something you can build yourself.
6. Don’t fall in love with your idea
It’s really easy to do this. After all, you built it so your idea will seem perfect to you. Get some opinions from people or industry professionals you can trust. Most importantly, take opinions of your other 5 teammates. Everyone has to be onboard with the idea and your approach, else internal discord can rip a team apart. You should be able to take criticism and view your idea dispassionately, and make changes on the fly to accommodate others.