How to Select the Right Hackathon Judges for Your Event

by Tejaswini , 20 April 2023
by Tejaswini ,  20 April 2023
How to Select the Right Hackathon Judges for Your Event

Hackathons are intense, high-energy events that require teams to collaborate and innovate quickly to solve complex problems. However, a successful hackathon depends on more than just the participants; selecting the right judges is crucial to ensuring fair and effective competition.

Moreover, 57% of hackathon participants say that the quality of the judging panel is the most important factor in deciding whether to attend a hackathon or not. (source: HackerRank). So it’s not a process to be taken lightly.

In this article, we will explore the key qualities of an ideal hackathon judge, provide tips for recruiting and managing judges, discuss the ethics of hackathon judging, and examine the future of hackathon competitions.

1. Identifying the Qualities of an Ideal Hackathon Judge

To select the ideal hackathon judge, several key qualities should be taken into account. Firstly, judges should have technical expertise in the relevant field to ensure they can evaluate projects effectively.

According to a survey conducted by Devpost, a platform for hackathon organisers and participants, 83% of participants consider technical expertise as the most important quality for judges. Judges with a background in coding, data analysis, or design, for example, are well-equipped to evaluate the technical aspects of projects and offer constructive feedback.

In addition to technical expertise, experience in judging hackathons is crucial. Experienced judges are familiar with the unique demands and challenges of hackathons and can offer a fair and objective evaluation of projects. They also have a better understanding of the time constraints and pressure that participants face during the competition. As per the same Devpost survey, 55% of participants consider judging experience to be an important factor in selecting judges.

Ensuring judges are familiar with the relevant field is equally important. If a hackathon focuses on a specific technology or industry, judges should have expertise in that area to evaluate projects effectively. For example, if a hackathon focuses on healthcare technology, judges with a background in healthcare, medicine, or biology would be best suited to evaluate projects in that field.

Good communication skills are also critical for judges. Judges should be able to articulate their evaluations clearly and provide feedback in a constructive and meaningful way. Judges who are approachable and willing to engage with participants can help create a positive and supportive environment for the competition.

Diversity and inclusivity are also essential qualities of an ideal hackathon judge. Judges from diverse backgrounds, including gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, can bring a variety of perspectives to the evaluation process and help prevent biases. Inclusivity is important to ensure that all participants feel welcome and represented, regardless of their background or identity.

Finally, judges should be available and accessible throughout the competition. They should be willing to devote sufficient time to evaluate projects and provide feedback to participants. Judges who are responsive and attentive can help create a supportive and engaging atmosphere for the competition.

2. Tips for Finding the Perfect Hackathon Judges

Hackathon Judges via Semanticscholar.png
Hackathon Judges via Semanticscholar

Recruiting the right judges is crucial for the success of a hackathon. According to a survey by Devpost, a platform for hackathon organisers, 45% of organisers struggle with recruiting judges for their events. Here are some tips for recruiting hackathon judges:

A. Reach Out to Industry Leaders and Experts: One of the best ways to find the right judges is to reach out to industry leaders and experts in the relevant field. They can bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the judging panel and provide valuable feedback to participants. For example, if you are hosting a hackathon on blockchain technology, seek out individuals with experience in the cryptocurrency industry.

B. Leverage Professional Networks and Social Media: Another way to find potential judges is to leverage your professional network and social media channels. Post on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook about your event and the need for judges, and ask your connections to help spread the word. You can also reach out to relevant groups or associations in your industry and ask for their help in recruiting judges.

According to a survey by Devpost, 72% of hackathon organisers reach out to their professional networks to recruit judges. (source: Devpost)

C. Academic institutions: Professors and instructors in relevant fields such as computer science, engineering, and design can make great judges. Contacting local universities and colleges is a good place to start.

D. Consider Former Hackathon Participants: Former hackathon participants can be great judges because they understand the process and the challenges that participants face. They can provide valuable feedback based on their own experiences and can help ensure that the judging process is fair and objective. In addition, they may have valuable insights into the latest trends and technologies in the field.

E. Previous Judges: Consider reaching out to judges who have participated in your previous hackathons or other hackathons in the same field. They may be interested in judging again or may know other potential judges who would be a good fit for your event.

F. Sponsors and Partners: Your sponsors and partners may have contacts in your field who would make great judges. Consider reaching out to them for recommendations.

G. Hackathon Communities and Networks: There are several hackathon communities and networks online, such as HackerEarth and Devpost. You can reach out to these communities to find potential judges who have experience in hackathons.

H. Online communities: There are online communities dedicated to hackathons and related fields. Look for groups on LinkedIn, Reddit, and Facebook, and ask for recommendations for judges.

I. Local startups and companies: Consider contacting local startups and companies related to your hackathon theme. They may be willing to send a representative to judge the event and network with potential talent.

J. Hackathon mentor networks: Mentors who have experience in the field may be interested in judging or recommending potential judges. Look for online communities and local organisations that offer mentorship programs for hackathons.

K. Professional networks: Reach out to professional networks such as the Chamber of Commerce or industry associations to find potential judges.

L. Look for Judges with Varied Backgrounds and Expertise: It's important to have a diverse group of judges with varied backgrounds and expertise. This can help ensure that the judging process is fair and objective and can also bring fresh perspectives to the evaluation of submissions. For example, if your hackathon is focused on developing a new mobile app, you may want to recruit judges with expertise in mobile app development, marketing, and user experience. Having judges who possess hands-on experience in app development can provide the hackathon participants with valuable guidance on how to build an app.

3. How to Approach Your Chosen Hackathon Judges

Once you have identified and recruited potential judges for your hackathon, the next step is to approach them professionally and effectively. Here are some tips for approaching your chosen hackathon judges:

Be clear about the role: Before reaching out to potential judges, make sure you have a clear understanding of the expectations and responsibilities of the role. This includes the time commitment, judging criteria, and any other relevant information. Communicate this information clearly to potential judges to ensure they fully understand what is expected of them.

Personalise your message: When reaching out to potential judges, take the time to personalise your message. Address them by name and mention any specific qualifications or expertise that make them a good fit for the role. This shows that you have done your research and are genuinely interested in their participation.

Be professional and courteous: Your initial outreach should be professional and courteous. Use a formal tone and avoid any casual or overly familiar language. Thank them for considering the opportunity and offering to provide any additional information they may need.

Provide clear instructions: Once a potential judge has expressed interest, provide clear instructions on the next steps. This may include filling out a registration form, attending a training session, or reviewing materials related to the hackathon. Make sure they understand the timeline and any deadlines.

Offer Incentives and Perks: Finally, it's important to offer incentives and perks to your judges to make it worth their while. This can include things like free admission to the event, access to exclusive networking opportunities, or even monetary compensation. By providing these incentives, you can attract top talent and ensure that your judges are fully invested in the success of your hackathon.

Offering incentives and perks to judges can improve the quality of your judging panel. 54% of hackathon participants say that incentives like prizes or recognition make them more likely to attend a hackathon. (source: HackerRank)

Follow up promptly: After a potential judge has agreed to participate, make sure to follow up promptly with any additional information or instructions. Be available to answer any questions they may have and provide support throughout the process.

Approaching your chosen hackathon judges professionally and effectively can help ensure a successful and productive partnership. By providing clear expectations, personalising your message, and offering support throughout the process, you can help create a positive and engaging experience for both the judges and the hackathon participants.

4. Best Practices for Managing Hackathon Judges

Hackathon Judges Methodology
Hackathon Judges Methodology via

Once you have identified and recruited your hackathon judges, it's crucial to manage them effectively to ensure a successful event. Here are some best practices for managing hackathon judges:

Establish Clear Expectations and Guidelines: Before the event, it's essential to establish clear expectations and guidelines for your hackathon judges. Communicate the judging criteria and evaluation process, including any weighting or prioritisation of certain factors. Make sure judges understand their responsibilities, including how much time they will need to commit and what they should expect from the event organisers.

Provide Judges with Adequate Information and Resources: To make sure your hackathon judges are well-informed, provide them with adequate information and resources. This includes detailed briefings on the challenges, technical specifications, and tools that participants will use, as well as any relevant background information on the industry or topic area. Make sure judges have access to all the necessary materials, such as judging sheets, scorecards, and rubrics.

Foster Collaboration and Communication among Judges: It's essential to foster collaboration and communication among hackathon judges to ensure consistent evaluations and avoid conflicts. Consider scheduling regular check-ins or meetings to discuss progress and address any issues that arise. Encourage judges to provide feedback to each other and share best practices or techniques.

Create a Positive and Supportive Environment for Judges: Hackathon judging can be a challenging and demanding task, so it's crucial to create a positive and supportive environment for your judges. Provide a comfortable and well-equipped workspace, and offer refreshments and breaks as needed. Consider hosting a social event or networking opportunity to help judges relax and get to know each other.

Collect Feedback and Evaluation from Judges: After the event, collect feedback and evaluation from your hackathon judges to help improve future events. This can include feedback on the judging process, the quality of submissions, and any logistical or administrative issues that arose. Use this feedback to make improvements and refine your hackathon judging process for next time.

One example of the successful management of hackathon judges is the annual Global Legal Hackathon, which brings together legal professionals, technologists, and entrepreneurs to create innovative solutions for the legal industry.

The event features a panel of judges from diverse backgrounds, including legal experts, business leaders, and tech innovators. To manage the judges effectively, the organisers provide them with clear guidelines and expectations, as well as access to relevant resources and materials.

They also foster collaboration and communication among judges, providing opportunities for them to share feedback and ideas. The result is a highly successful event that has produced numerous innovative solutions for the legal industry.

5. Balancing Judging Criteria

When it comes to hackathon judging, it's important to strike a balance between technical and business criteria. Technical criteria are typically focused on the quality and innovation of the solution being presented, while business criteria are focused on the marketability and potential impact of the solution. Here are some tips for creating a balanced judging system:

A. Finding the Right Mix for Your Event

The mix of technical and business criteria will depend on the specific goals and objectives of your hackathon. If the goal is to encourage innovation and creativity, technical criteria may be more heavily weighted. If the goal is to promote marketability and commercialisation, business criteria may be more important. It's important to consider the audience and stakeholders for your hackathon when designing the judging criteria.

B. Importance of considering both technical and business criteria

While technical criteria are important for evaluating the quality and innovation of the solution, business criteria are essential for determining the marketability and potential impact of the solution. Technical criteria may include factors such as the level of innovation, complexity, feasibility, and technical implementation. Business criteria may include factors such as market potential, scalability, potential revenue, and impact.

C. Tips for creating a balanced judging system

One approach to creating a balanced judging system is to assign a weight to each of the criteria. For example, technical criteria may be weighted at 60%, while business criteria may be weighted at 40%. Another approach is to use a matrix or scoring system that considers both technical and business criteria. The matrix or scoring system should be developed in advance of the hackathon and communicated to the judges so they understand how to evaluate the solutions.

  • NB. It’s more than the judges you’ll be working with at your hackathon. For example, you’ll likely be working with volunteers. If so, you’ll want to read our ultimate guide to hiring and managing volunteers at your events.

It's important to ensure that the judging criteria are clear, objective, and measurable. This will help ensure that the judging process is fair and that the winners are chosen based on merit. In addition, it's important to provide judges with training and guidance on how to evaluate the solutions based on the criteria.


At the Angel Hack hackathon, the judging criteria included factors such as innovation, execution, marketability, and potential impact. The technical criteria were weighted at 60%, while the business criteria were weighted at 40%. This approach was effective in ensuring that both technical and business considerations were taken into account in the judging process.

At the NASA Space Apps Challenge, the judging criteria included factors such as relevance, creativity, impact, and completeness. Technical criteria were important for evaluating the feasibility and technical implementation of the solution, while business criteria were important for evaluating the potential impact of the solution. Judges were provided with a matrix that considered both technical and business criteria, and the winners were chosen based on the overall score. This approach was effective in ensuring that the winners were chosen based on a balance of technical and business considerations.

Overall, balancing technical and business criteria is essential for creating a fair and effective hackathon judging system. By considering the goals and objectives of your hackathon and using a balanced mix of technical and business criteria, you can ensure that the winners are chosen based on merit and that the solutions presented are both innovative and marketable.

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6. The Role of Hackathon Mentors and Advisors in Supporting Judges

Hackathon mentors and advisors play a critical role in supporting judges throughout the competition. By providing guidance and mentorship, mentors can help judges make more informed decisions and ensure that the competition is a success. Here are some best practices for coordinating mentors and judges:

A. Providing guidance and mentorship to judges

Hackathon mentors can provide guidance and mentorship to judges throughout the competition. Mentors can help judges understand the technical aspects of the projects, provide context and background information about the problem being addressed, and help judges make informed decisions.

For example, at the Techstars Startup Weekend, mentors are paired with judges to help them evaluate the projects. The mentors help judges understand the projects and provide feedback to help judges make informed decisions. By pairing mentors with judges, the event organisers ensure that judges have the support they need to make the best decisions possible.

B. Tips for coordinating mentors and judges

To ensure that mentors and judges are working together effectively, it is important to establish clear guidelines and expectations for both groups. Here are some tips for coordinating mentors and judges:

Assign mentors to judges: Assign mentors to judges based on their areas of expertise. This will ensure that judges receive guidance and mentorship from mentors who are knowledgeable in their field.

Schedule regular check-ins: Schedule regular check-ins between mentors and judges to ensure that judges are receiving the support they need. These check-ins can be conducted in person or virtually.

Provide mentors with judging criteria: Provide mentors with the judging criteria so that they can provide feedback to judges that are aligned with the judging criteria.

C. Ensuring alignment between mentors and judges

To ensure that mentors and judges are aligned in their feedback and evaluation, it is important to provide them with a shared understanding of the competition's goals and objectives. This can be accomplished by:

  • Providing mentors and judges with a clear understanding of the competition's goals and objectives.
  • Providing mentors and judges with the judging criteria.
  • Conducting training sessions for mentors and judges to ensure that they understand the competition's goals and objectives.
  • Encouraging mentors and judges to collaborate and share feedback to ensure that they are aligned in their evaluation.
  • By ensuring alignment between mentors and judges, organisers can ensure that the competition is fair and that the best projects are selected as winners.

7. The Hackathon Judging Ethics

In any competition, ensuring ethical practices is crucial for building trust and maintaining fairness. The same is true for hackathon judging. To select the right hackathon judges for your event, it's important to establish ethical guidelines and practices that will ensure the integrity of the evaluation process.

A key aspect of ethical hackathon judging is avoiding conflicts of interest. Judges should not have any personal or financial stake in any of the participating teams or their projects. This means that judges should not be employed by or invested in any of the participating companies, and they should not have any personal relationships with any of the participants.

It's also important to address potential biases in the evaluation process. Judges should be trained to evaluate projects based on objective criteria and avoid making judgments based on personal preferences or biases. This can be achieved by using a clear and well-defined set of criteria that is based on the goals of the hackathon.

Another aspect of ethical hackathon judging is ensuring that all intellectual property rights are respected. Judges should be trained to identify any potential violations of intellectual property laws and ensure that all participating teams have the appropriate licenses or permissions to use any third-party materials.

Finally, it's important to establish liability and legal agreements that will protect both the participants and the judges. This may include waivers, non-disclosure agreements, or other legal agreements that will ensure that all parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities.

By establishing clear ethical guidelines and practices, and selecting judges who are committed to upholding these standards, you can ensure that your hackathon will be a fair and equitable competition that fosters innovation and creativity.

8. Measuring the Success of Your Hackathon Judging Panel

Hackathon Judging Panel viaHVTechfest.jpg
Hackathon Judging Panel via HVTechfest

One crucial aspect of selecting the right hackathon judges is measuring the success of your judging panel. This can help you identify areas of improvement and determine whether the judging criteria and processes are effective.

There are several metrics you can use to measure the success of your hackathon judging panel. These include:

Feedback and evaluation from participants: Collect feedback and evaluation from the hackathon participants to determine if they felt the judging was fair if the judges were knowledgeable and engaged, and if the judging criteria were appropriate. You can also use this feedback to make improvements for future events.

According to a report by AngelHack, 91% of hackathon participants say that they want judges to provide actionable feedback. (source: AngelHack)

Diversity and inclusion: Measure the diversity and inclusion of your judging panel to ensure that your hackathon is accessible and welcoming to all participants. You can track metrics such as gender, ethnicity, age, and professional background of your judges.

Judge participation: Measure the level of participation and engagement of your judges throughout the event. This can include attending the opening ceremony, participating in mentorship sessions, and providing feedback to participants.

Judging accuracy: Measure the accuracy and consistency of your judges' evaluations. This can be done by comparing the scores given by different judges for the same project and evaluating whether they align with the judging criteria.

Overall event success: Measure the success of your hackathon event by tracking metrics such as the number of participants, the number of projects submitted, and the quality of projects submitted. This can help you determine the impact that the judging panel had on the event.

It is essential to use these metrics to determine the effectiveness of your judging panel and make improvements for future events. For example, if you receive feedback that the judging criteria were unclear or the judges were not diverse enough, you can take steps to address these issues in future events.

One case study that highlights the importance of measuring the success of your hackathon judging panel is the NASA Space Apps Challenge. The Challenge is an annual hackathon event that brings together participants from around the world to solve challenges related to space exploration. The event's judging panel is composed of experts from NASA and other space agencies, as well as industry professionals and academics.

The success of the NASA Space Apps Challenge is measured through various metrics, including participant feedback, project quality, and diversity of the judging panel. In 2020, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the event attracted over 26,000 participants from 150 countries, who submitted over 2,000 projects. The event's judging panel was diverse, with 38% of judges being women and 37% being from outside the United States.

Measuring the success of your hackathon judging panel is critical to ensuring that you select the right judges for your event. By using the metrics outlined above, you can determine whether your judging criteria and processes are effective and make improvements for future events.

9. The Future of Hackathon Judging

As the technology landscape evolves, so too does the world of hackathons and hackathon judging. Keeping up with these changes is essential for any organisation seeking to host successful events and attract top talent. Here are some emerging trends and innovations in the world of tech competitions that could impact the future of hackathon judging:

Incorporating AI and Machine Learning: AI and machine learning are increasingly being used to judge hackathon entries. This allows for more objective evaluations and can help identify potential winners more accurately. For example, at the AI for Good Global Hackathon, participants used IBM Watson's AI capabilities (e.g., SQL query optimization) to develop solutions for some of the world's most pressing problems, with the help of judges.

Remote Judging:Remote judging has become more popular in recent years, and this trend is expected to continue. Remote judging can save time and money and can help increase the pool of potential judges. This approach has been used in hackathons such as NASA's Space Apps Challenge, where judges from around the world are recruited to evaluate submissions.

Increasing Diversity and Inclusivity: There is growing recognition that diverse and inclusive teams are more innovative and successful. This trend is likely to lead to more diverse judging panels and criteria that take into account factors such as accessibility and inclusion.

Emphasising Impact: While technical expertise will always be important, there is an increasing emphasis on the impact that hackathon solutions can have. This trend is likely to lead to more focus on judging criteria that evaluate the potential impact of solutions on society, the environment, and other factors.

Collaboration with Industry Experts: As hackathons become more mainstream, there is an increasing need to connect participants with industry experts who can provide mentorship and guidance. This trend is likely to lead to more collaboration between judges and mentors, and more emphasis on the role of mentors in the judging process.

As these trends continue to shape the world of hackathon judging, organisers need to stay up-to-date and adapt to changing circumstances. By following best practices for selecting and managing judges, and by keeping an eye on emerging trends, organisers can ensure that their events remain relevant and successful in the years to come.

Wrapping up

Hackathons are a great way to bring together talented individuals and drive innovation. However, the success of a hackathon largely depends on the quality of the judging panel. Selecting the right judges for your hackathon event is crucial to ensuring fair, objective, and impactful evaluations of participant submissions.

To select the right hackathon judges, event organisers must consider factors such as the judging criteria, their target audience, and the availability of potential judges. They should also ensure that the judges are adequately prepared for their role, by providing them with training and clear guidelines on ethical considerations.

Just don’t forget to book your entire event in one place - Eventflare - to achieve high-impacting hackathons that lead to bigger and better things!

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