I've been to four hackathons over the past year. At three of the events, I was partnered with Nat and Sanders; for Unhackathon up in Manhattan, Dan replaced Sanders. We started off very successful. We built UntitledMixtap.es and Open Itinerary, both of which won respectable prizes at the hackathons. Then, we went out of our comfort zone for HackMIT and build an Android app, MeetUpWithMe. It was a frustrating development process, but we somehow placed in the Top 16. Then, we went to YHack, with possibly one of our best ideas. We were more prepared than ever, and built an awesome app called The Fireside. However, after receiving praise from judges, and a Twitter shoutout from the Viacom judge, we didn't end up winning anything.
So, here's some analysis on hackathons, and then some looking into startups.
Hackathons originally existed as events for participants to set aside time to work on cool projects they otherwise never would get started on. Then, sponsors realized the opportunity for recruitment, and they just became glorified recruitment events with giant cash prizes, which also isn't so bad. You can choose to play into this when deciding on your hack idea and when actually working on the hack, or you can just create for your own gain.
But, there's still a push to win and be recognized. After all, that's what everyone else is doing, so why wouldn't you? If you weren't going to compete, why wouldn't you just stay home and hack, while still getting good sleep and hanging out with friends?
I played into the sponsor portion at HackBeanpot '14, and used it to acquire a summer internship and, later, a co-op. I'll still say there's nothing wrong with doing that, especially if you realize why these hackathons currently exist.
At some point, however, you realize your skills are already well-developed, and that you don't need to be impressing sponsors anymore. Instead, you can start working on your own products, and try to get a startup up and running. After YHack '14, with the ridiculously random Top 8, this became very clear.
Starting a startup has almost become an inside joke, where anyone now can start their own technology business, hoping for the best, only to eventually crash and burn because maintaining a successful business is actually really fucking hard.
I'm trying to truthfully evaluate where my skills are right now, and how much full-time school and hackathons are worth my time. I really don't think I need to take more time to expand my skillset before I move on to making real products. There is a ton for me to learn, but I just don't need to wait anymore. I don't need to experiment at hackathons, and I dont need to pick up on new skills in classes. Google is the best resource!
What I'm trying to get at is, if there is an idea and some kickstart to that idea, like solid funding from either an incubator or some other investor, there is no reason why I shouldn't take matters into my own hands and run with it.
What am I getting out of classes? Every now and then, I get to learn things that either a) are hard to self-teach, or b) are actually interesting to me. Luckily, my financial aid package is bountiful, so I'm not investing too much right now. But, halfway through, still with two co-op periods left, would it ever be worth it to leave? (something about opportunity cost)
If I look at life how it truly is: a one-time deal with no re-dos, why wouldn't I take risks? What am I truly risking? I can get hired without a degree if I have the necessary background and project portfolio, and in the worst case, I could just go back to school and finish the remaining two semesters of classes.
While I'm gone, I'd be pursuing something that I truly want to do. Is that what is more important? Isn't that what is more important? There's plenty of luck necessary for success, but I have everything else that you need: willpower, talent, intelligence, experience, and my youth (energy). I don't want to pursue a startup with the sole goal of becoming independently wealthy; I want success. I want satisfaction, in the eyes of myself and my peers.
All I know for sure is that waiting will never do me any good. I'll be unhappy, bored, and always wondering about what I could have done with this time.
The time to pursue this is right now. Bottom line.