It has been a crazy one month for me in the Bay Area so far. I spent my first two weekends hacking at Google, GitHub and Spotify all night long. I spent the other two, touring the Mozilla Spaces in San Francisco and Mountain View and then exploring Los Angeles. I’ve had a life-changing experience so far and I’m enjoying every bit of it.
I’ve attended few major hackathons in the past and have won, miserably failed and also been recognized. I believe I am in some kind of position to give some helpful tips to ones who are pushing for their first hackathon.
I can’t stress this enough. Anyone can come up with a scrappy project that will be just-another-forgotten-project after that Hackathon. I have also been a criminal for doing this in many occasions. Nothing gives you more satisfaction if someone forks your small hack that you created in 24-hours and builds on it.
There will be cases when the problem you are solving is for a micro organization, but try to think at a macro scale. There is this value in creating a framework that can be used as a foundation for other developers or organization. Let it not be tightly coupled with a particular data-set or organization. Built something that creates value and you can share it with the world.
“Life’s too short to build things that don’t create value.” – @ericries
It is undoubtedly difficult in the short time that you have, but do keep it in the back of your head. Let it lay a foundation to build on it even after that hackathon.
Your Technology Stack
I clearly remember an informal hackathon where our ambitious group tried to work on a language that we weren’t comfortable in. We tried to build an app with a completely unfamiliar framework. It was a more of – Let’s try something new – which failed miserably and lead to nowhere. When I think of that now, I can’t believe I even attempted that. This should be totally avoided and is a complete waste of time and resources for everyone.
Trust me, no one will be able to learn a completely new technology and built something good inside 24 hours. Know what you are good in and use them wisely.
Nearly 70% of the participants come to the hackathon without forming teams or knowing what they will be hacking on. This is completely normal. So, don’t panic even if you don’t have a team after 15 minutes the hackathon starts. You will eventually find a team.
Talk with a lot of people, find out what they are working on, understand their hack and think if it worth your time and effort. Don’t commit to the first person you talk to. Meet other groups and get on board if you feel if it feels right and remember, bullet (1).
I recently realized the benefit of taking small misc notes in apps like Evernote or Simplenotes or simple text editor. Just type in the new terms, functions and commands you come across during the hackathon. Read enough for the task you are doing or ask help from others. The people inherently will be super nice and will help you out in any way they can. This will help you mingle and meet new people. You can always read or investigate the points you noted down after you are back chilling at your home.
Keep small deadlines
The final hour isn’t really the deadline. You’ll know if your work will be amazing during the mid point of the hackathon. So, try to break time into small chunks for each tasks that you can think of. Analyze which part needs more attention and divide time accordingly. Be efficient and smart. Don’t waste a lot of time in optimizing or always doing things the right way. Use some tricks to hack the task and get it done asap!
Talk with organizers and speakers
Tell them how awesome they are for organizing the event and how much you appreciate their time and effort. Tell them why you gave up your weekend just for this hackathon 😉
Discuss about the hack you are working on so that they can shed their views on it.
Use Github, please
I’m sure almost everyone uses some form of version control system. If not, please do. It makes collaboration so so much easier. *Captain Obvious*
Don’t overdo. Take rest. Enjoy. Sleep. Enjoy. Take rest. And again carry on.