As a Sophomore in college a couple of years ago, it seemed to me that the only way to grow and make myself a competitive hire was through an internship. If you were one of the more capable students in my class you were lined up with a very rewarding internship.
I didn't realize that pursuing my side projects could be just as valuable as any internship. One problem was that I didn't have any. I couldn't bring myself to sit down and learn from a book or read video tutorials. I wasn't apart of any club or virtual forum either. In retrospect, the most limiting factor was not seeking any inspiring outlets or people to create something with.
Fast forward. While a competitive environment is nothing new, Hackathons are gaining popularity more than ever - events hosted by schools, companies, and organizations where people from all different fields come together to compete, create, learn, and inspire! I can think of three things that companies participate in hackathons for:
- find talent
- increase exposure
- field test their product
I can think of a ton more reasons why they're great for competitors, no doubt that it's a win situation for everyone:
- awesome, free swag and sweet prizes!
- meeting new people
- exposure to rare opportunities
- glory that comes from competing/winning
- EXPERIENCE & PORTFOLIO CONTENT
Attend a meetup where you can learn about a particular technology from industry leaders while working on projects with them and other people who are as enthusiastic as you are (btw, meetups can be based on pretty much anything, from curating beers to practicing your french).
While these outlets might have existed when I was a Sophomore, there sure wasn't any resources that spread their awareness to the masses. Now there's Challenge Post for hackathons, Meetup.com for meetups, Eventbrite to tie the knot on events, and numerous online coding competitions such as Top Coder and CodeChef.
Unlike a meetup or hackathon, an internship may give you some real world experience. However, nothing beats learning about technologies that interest you and working on solving problems that you care about.
You don't need an internship if you're gaining experience doing something you love, creating something you own. Shoot, I have classmates who had paid CS internships to get coffee and sit around. Your resume looks just as great, if not better with side projects and employers will appreciate your passion all the same. For lack of a better term, being able to kick ass (rather, learn how to) is easier than ever.