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Hackathon expertise: Mentorship and judging best practices

Talent Assessment | 6 Min Read

Hackathon expertise: Mentorship and judging best practices


Hackathons bring many participants together to solve real-world problems every year. People with diverse perspectives and backgrounds, such as analysts, coders, business strategists, designers, etc., venture to these events to solve predefined challenges within a specified time limit. Closely following the tech titans of the world, more organizations are resorting to hackathons, some for brand-building, others for talent acquisition, training and development.

At a hackathon, participants learn how to harness the power of ideas and collaboration to create a functional solution or prototype of a service, product or business model. However, a hackathon is more than its entrants. This blog will cover the two most essential bedrocks of a successful hackathon: the mentors and judges.




Who are hackathon mentors?

Hackathon mentors are accomplished professionals dedicating their time and efforts to help participants in their areas of expertise throughout a hackathon event. Effective mentorship is what drives teams to turn ideas into beautiful realities. Whether technical or non-technical, hackathon mentors can play a pivotal role in determining the success of a project. Their responsibilities vary significantly across the mentoring spectrum based on their domain expertise. For example, some mentors are excellent at helping teams with techniques to improve design, originality and user experience, and others are subject matter experts in specific business processes. And some mentors possess expertise across a wide range of technical capabilities.

Hackathon mentors ensure meaningful experiences for hackers in such time-intensive creative events. They may be present in the hacking space during in-person events, following their rotation schedule, waiting for hackers to beckon them to address their queries. Mentorship for a virtual hackathon is quite like an offline hackathon, except it happens virtually. Therefore, mentors provide insights into the challenge or thematic subject and assist in developing the skills needed for the challenge. In other words, the ideal mentors are strategically aligned to the event’s themes and goals.

Listed below are some professionals who may play the mentor’s role during an event:

  • Senior technologists - accomplished software project managers, analysts, developers, etc.
  • CTOs and CIOs
  • Startup founders and entrepreneurs
  • Marketing and business development leaders
  • Project directors

Hack teams comprise members with diverse backgrounds. Each has knowledge, experience and objectives. Sometimes, seeking solutions makes them feel deviated, disoriented and doubtful of their abilities. The role of a mentor is to become a beacon of hope to drive out obscurity and confusion, providing teams with new perspectives to solve challenging problems. The team needs someone with adequate experience and skills to help them glide through daunting obstacles.

Below are some of the roles and duties of a hackathon mentor:

  • Speeding up generating multiple ideas for challenges and solutions through brainstorming sessions.
  • Giving unparalleled guidance on the topics that the mentor has mastered.
  • Keeping track of time amidst an intense event schedule.
  • Identifying the person who is going to pitch the project.
  • Assisting in the division of roles within the team.
  • Helping teams if they are feeling stuck at any stage.


Best practices for hackathon mentors

Some of the best practices related to mentorship that produce impressive results are:


Aligning the team’s efforts with the goals

Mentors should know where the team needs and challenges. Mentors should help them understand where to shift their focus and the required level of effort. Some questions to be addressed are: Is the hackathon a high-fidelity prototype or a low-fidelity wireframe? What crucial business issues do participants need to address? How do they present their ideas by the end of the hackathon?


Laying the groundwork for the mentoring process

Everybody has their strengths and some limitations. For example, the teams might be working on areas with which even mentors need to be acquainted. It would be best if mentors stayed prepared beforehand in situations like these (for example, somebody volunteering as a design mentor at a fintech event even though they are from a different industry). In such cases, researching before the event and understanding such topics’ intricacies is best.


Connecting more with the team for better coordination

Often, mentors are within the team’s reach for a predefined amount of time. They may prefer going by their schedule and not according to the event. However, the best action would be to stay connected with teams through multiple communication channels should the need arise.


Avoiding unsolicited advice

A mentor who stays around and is approachable helps improve team morale. However, participants receive multiple feedback from different mentors, so they might need time to process that information, settle on a plan of action and do what is required. Therefore, mentors should tell the teams when they visit to see the progress. If the participants do not seek any help, they should not be disturbed.


Knowing one’s purpose

The hackathon teams comprise team members from diverse backgrounds; for example, some are good at coding, and some are good at visual design. Challenges may arise when one needs to decide the initiatives that are to be taken and one is unsure about the idea’s viability. In that case, the role of mentors is crucial.

If teams lack domain expertise, a mentor’s support is crucial to stay on course. So, with self-reflection and forethought, mentors must gain role clarity when preparing for the hackathon. For example, why is one chosen as one of the guiding forces? Or, what inspired one to volunteer as a mentor? What is one thing that one knows better than anyone? Experienced mentors’ perspectives are invaluable to the teams.


Mentoring, not handholding

Good mentors are more than just problem solvers. They understand that hackathons are not about them or giving weight to their ideas. It is about helping others see hope. What sets them apart is their ability to enhance their learning and their inclination to wish the best for their teams.

For example, when a team asks its mentor about choosing the best application model. Ideally, a mentor should give them hints and direct them to some resources to find model examples, encouraging them to explore and decide what works best. That is the ideal way to make a well-informed decision without relying solely on the mentor’s suggestions.


Guiding toward success

Most incredible mentors empower their teams, reinforce their ideas, recognize their passion, and help them chart the way through the maze. They are strong proponents of learning by doing and expect their teams to decide on their strategies, products and business models.




Who are hackathon judges?

Judges are the important decision-makers vested with the authority to evaluate submissions and declare winners during the demo of the hackathon event. Without them, undertakings of such a scale would not be possible. The judges are responsible for expressing their opinions on the pitches received, assessing the teams’ efforts individually and determining who is eligible to win the prize. In addition, they would grade ideas based on realistic capability, level of innovation, business value and ingenuity.


Selection of judges

Selecting the appropriate judges is a determining factor in the decision-making process. Understanding the event’s objective makes it more accessible. Hackathon judges have extensive technical backgrounds, however there are exceptions to subject matter specialists for themed events. Judges are usually onboarded from sponsoring companies; however, organizers can also onboard more judges if needed. Even mentors with a mix of technical and subject-matter expertise can be commissioned to perform the role of a judge.

Choosing an adequate panel of judges will go a long way toward better branding a specific hackathon event and attracting participants. In addition, bringing together a panel of industry celebrities as judges to draw participants to connect with the event garners maximum eyeballs. For example, hackers may aspire to display their ideas if industry bigwigs are panel members.

Hackathon judges with expertise on the challenge or thematic subject can gauge a final product or idea’s prowess based on the following:


Hack blog_Infographic 1


Some pro tips:

  • Connect with notable personalities in the industry and shortlist a few names once the event details have been finalized.
  • An ideal judge has a remarkable aptitude for making insightful decisions about hacks.
  • Technology evangelists, reputed academic professionals, seasoned industry veterans, and industry honchos can also be considered.
  • One can request someone's presence from organizations they wish to be sponsors.
  • Judges should be informed of the criteria for selecting winners before the event, such as the parameters to assess a hack or deliverable, the scoring system, etc.
  • Judges should not be saddled with a boatload of submissions. Before entrusting them with the evaluation task, considering their bandwidth is important.


What is a hackathon judging criteria?

Hackathon evaluation criteria include standards and guidelines to assess the projects or solutions developed during a hackathon competition. They serve as a framework for judging submissions and choosing winners. The hackathon organizers establish these criteria. The specific goals and objectives of the hackathon determine the requirements. They are dependent on innovation, functionality, usability, scalability, impact potential, and overall presentation.

Hackathon candidates present their projects to a panel of judges who evaluate them based on these criteria to determine the projects that can be successful and are deserving of recognition.


Why is it important?

Credible and proper judging criteria enhance the hackathon. It is important due to the following:

  • Promotes participation: Objective assessment encourages participants to put in their best efforts. It results in increased participation and creates a healthy learning and competitive environment.
  • Enhances credibility: A hackathon’s reputation relies on its ability to provide and promote a platform for applicants to present their skills. By implementing well-thought criteria, organizers can attract future participants and build credibility.
  • Celebrates innovation: A proper selection ensures that innovative ideas and solutions are recognized and rewarded appropriately. It motivates participants to think outside the box and develop groundbreaking ideas.




What are the different types of hackathons judging criteria that one should consider?

After the hacking is complete, questions arise on how one can judge a hackathon effectively and select the victor. Decisions can be simplified with suitable judges and selection criteria. Listed below are various criteria and questions to assess teams:


Is it commercially viable?

Not all hackathons require tangible outcomes (a functional tool, feature, product, etc.), but the top-scoring team’s idea should contribute something substantial. It must lead to the solution. Moreover, the expectation is not of a thoroughly ready, polished project at the event’s end. However, one can analyze and assess the outcome by looking at the level of thought, effort, and perfection that went into creating it. Some important questions include:

  • Has the team succeeded in what they set out to do?
  • Does the project hold the potential to add business value?
  • Is it market-worthy?
  • How critical is the challenge that the hack intends to solve?


How innovative and impactful is the idea?

One of the most crucial parameters when judging a hack is the originality of the idea. Some important questions include:

  • How technically feasible is it?
  • How innovative and realistic is the idea?
  • Does it hold tremendous potential? Is it well thought out from multiple aspects?


Where is it hosted?

This section includes questions like:

  • Is the project accessible on Bit Bucket/GitHub?
  • What already existing technologies have been used?
  • Does it demonstrate the concept as a minimum presentable product?


Does learning take place?

This section includes questions such as:

  • How much learning has taken place throughout the event?
  • Did the team go the extra mile to outplay the competition?
  • Have they expanded their learning horizon by learning modern technologies/ methodologies/tools/APIs?


Were the teams innovative in their approaches?

This section includes questions like:

  • Can an idea be deemed pioneering just because it is original and admirable?
  • How well did they utilize the time and available resources to produce the outcome?
  • Were they attempting to solve the old problem in a new way?
  • Could this prototype come in handy for developing a refined product?
  • Is it a viable solution or not?
  • What about the sustainability of the final product’s lifecycle?

Judges should factor in multiple aspects during the assessment before grading the final project.


How can virtual hackathon platforms deliver a seamless service experience for stakeholders?

By migrating the modalities of conducting hackathons online, organizers can achieve better visibility and global reach. Virtual hackathons have successfully infused innovation by streamlining the process for key stakeholders – organizers, participants, mentors and judges through new-age platforms. Online hackathon platforms are instrumental in fostering innovation and engagement.



With proper guidance, organizers and participants can stay on track. That is why communication is of the essence to ensure clear expectations are set between the mentor and participant. A virtual hackathon platform has many features to facilitate spontaneous communication between mentors and mentees, such as private messaging features to communicate and collaborate, regardless of time and location.



Hackathon events often witness massive participation, leaving judges needing help with the enormous task of assessing every entry. Online hackathon platforms empower organizations to conduct a successful hackathon with a unified dashboard for admins and judges. They can quickly schedule and manage large-scale participation, automate the shortlisting process, and enable the easy review of submissions by judges and panelists. In short, virtual hackathon platforms provide judges with all the resources they need to be successful in their respective roles.



Organizations can leverage virtual hackathon platforms to pursue diverse objectives, such as establishing a brand presence, engaging the workforce, recruiting top talent, and innovating with the best and the brightest. Due to the platform’s broad applicability and immense potential, there is a staggering increase in virtual events being conducted globally. The virtual platform enables companies to engage participants simultaneously across different time zones and geographies. Such a tech-enabled platform allows companies to easily host hackathon events and manage them end-to-end, from registration to project submission to judging.



Participants must work on their tasks at an onsite event at a particular time and period. Moreover, some people are not able to attend such events for various reasons, such as a packed schedule or unavoidable commitments. Flexibility is one of the most significant advantages that online hackathons provide. Virtual hackathons can extend longer than traditional face-to-face hack events, which gives participants a lot of leeway to regain their composure amid the frenetic pace of the event. Most importantly, people with strenuous schedules can work on their projects conveniently.




How Mercer | Mettl can help

Mercer | Mettl’s Xathon is an all-in-one hackathon management platform that hosts world-class hackathons effortlessly and successfully. Crafted to host large-scale, engaging hackathons, it helps identify and hire the top tech talent and engage with existing employees and tech communities.

Some of the key features are:

  • Real-time and seamless collaboration with stakeholders: mentors, judges, participants and organizers.
  • Easy login for mentors and judges to provide insights and access team data and submissions. 
  • Easy-to-create personalized event pages with a custom registration form to engage participants.
  • Quick scheduling of tasks and stages on a dashboard.
  • Seamless integration with other tools, internal social networks and IT systems.
  • Simple submission management is needed to ease the process of monitoring scores, submissions, and status.
  • Insightful leadership board to receive live event updates on top performers and other crucial aspects.

Insightful leadership board to receive live event updates on top performers and other crucial aspects.

  • Creating a compelling webpage for the event: Log onto Mercer | Mettl’s hackathon platform and enter all pertinent information about the hackathon. Put forth the requirements by defining challenges, central themes, participation, guidelines and prizes across a single dashboard. Through these steps, the event is ready to be launched.
  • Mercer | Mettl’s hackathon toolkit is handy for marketing support, community reach outs, social media and email campaigns to drive registrations and increase engagement. Using Mercer | Mettl's dedicated marketing SPOC, promoting a hackathon becomes easier.
  • Letting the event unfold with candidates quickly forming teams, strategizing, collaborating, and course-correcting with mentors' helping and managing their submissions on a single platform. Informing groups of their progress becomes simpler through automated approvals and rejections after round completion. With the dynamic leadership board, teams can track live updates and scores.
  • Once the contest ends, the judges can log in, grade submissions or analyze the automated results. Then, reveal and reward the winners and dive deep into post-event analytics to derive the ROI.

With top-of-the-line features that help businesses grow, Mercer | Mettl’s Xathon helps conduct campus and corporate hackathons. Mercer | Mettl’s decades-old expertise, holistic view and analytical rigor makes Xathon a product that has been preferred and valued by some of the most renowned organizations- JP Morgan, Microsoft, Amazon and Accenture, to name a few.

With Mercer | Mettl’s Xathon, one can get closer to their objectives with thorough assistance from subject matter experts who help define problem statements that align with the goals, business, and themes and help finalize solutions. In addition, the 24X7 support team ensures seamless process execution to make the event successful.



1. How to judge a hackathon effectively?

2. How to judge the originality and creativity of hackathon projects?

3. What factors can judges consider when evaluating the technical execution of a hackathon project?

4. What aspects indicate effective teamwork and collaboration?

5. How to assess the impact or potential impact of a hackathon project?

Originally published April 22 2022, Updated March 23 2024

Written by

Archita Bharadwaj has worked as a Content writer at Mercer | Mettl since April 2023. With her research background, she writes varied forms of content, including blogs, ebooks, and case studies, among other forms.

About This Topic

A hackathon or ideathon is an event where people with different skill sets come together to solve predefined challenges within a specified time frame. Ideathons and hackathons are increasingly being used for corporate branding, hiring at speed, innovating and engaging employees.

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