A hackathon is an event at which teams of programmers and designers collaborate for a short period of time on a project. Typically, these hackathons are competitions, ending with a panel of judges selecting the winning hack.

Hackathons are usually judged in one of two ways: through demos or “Science Fairs.”

With demos, each team gets a few minutes to show off their project for the audience and judges. In “Science Fair” style judging, teams set up tables, and roaming judges view the projects, ultimately choosing a few top teams to demo for everyone.

But if you’re a hackathon judge, how do you choose the best project? It’s a difficult question to answer, because “best” is clearly a subjective term.

Instead of attempting the impossible task of finding the “best” hack, try following the tips below.

Set a Purpose

A good starting point is to determine the purpose of the hackathon you’re judging. In general, hackathons are an opportunity to learn, teach, and build something new, preferably something that can solve a problem or help people.

But you should also consider the purpose of your particular hackathon. Does your hackathon have a theme? Is there anything the organizers are specifically interested in?

Generate Criteria

Once you’ve set a purpose, it’s much easier to generate criteria for the winning hack. From the information above, for instance, you might come up with the following:

  • Creative
  • Innovative
  • Useful
  • Fits theme/any other criteria outlined by the organizers

Additional criteria may include:

Technical Difficulty

Is the project technically impressive? Complex? Does it seem remarkable that someone could achieve this hack in just a day or two?


You can’t expect a completely polished, ready-to-go project at the end of a hackathon. But you can look for some degree of polish, thought, and effort. Does the hack work? Did the team achieve their goals and accomplish what they set out to do?

“Wow” Factor

Sure, this one is hard to judge, but hackathons are all about exciting innovation and surprising solutions to problems. Look for a project that makes you say, “Wow!” You can also take into account the reactions of the other hackers. Which projects seem to really amaze and excite the audience?

Future Plans

Depending on the purpose or goal of the hackathon you’re judging, you may also consider the team’s future plans for their hack. Does the hack seem practical and viable? (Sometimes, the organizers will prefer that you consider creativity more than business potential, but it depends on the event.)

Try to settle on around five categories, so the judging doesn’t get too complicated.


Judging a hackathon is fun and exciting, but it’s also challenging! Trying to choose the “best” project can be overwhelming.

Instead, consider the purpose of hackathons in general and your hackathon in particular, then generate about five different criteria to focus on as you evaluate projects.

This article was originally written by Matthew lynch and the original version can be found here –

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