We hear a lot about «hackathons», «hack days», «code fests» these days. These events have become very popular in the IT-culture and some of them gather people from all the state or country.
So what is a hackathon?
Hackathon — is an event for teams of people to gather and to develop a project from an idea to a prototype for a limited amount of time. Then the teams present their results to jury which consists of employers, investors and IT-sphere celebrities.
According to the rules a team has from 24 до 48 hours to make a prototype. One can say it’s too little but a work week has 40 hours and people manage to rollout whole projects in that amount of time. So you shouldn’t be afraid to be out of time.
A lot of people — usually from 50 to 100 — work simultaneously at the same place day and night. I’m sure this fact will motivate you that hard that you won’t feel tired until first 15 hours pass. And you likely won’t stop coding even then because of that drive that is in the air.
The hackathons are valuable because of a team work: you learn how to coordinate the work between all the members and how to make a product from the idea. A hackathon is a great chance to gain an experience of working in a team, especially if you’re still a student or haven’t worked for a company. And don’t worry if you still don’t have a team — one and two person teams use to win too. And moreover some teams get made during a hackathon itself. It’s usually not a bringing victory case but you can find a new friend, colleague or an associate and that’s a big deal.
Here are some tips and tricks for those who wants to participate a hackathon and win it.
1. Have a talk with people around
Hackathon is a great alternative to a job fair. Employers and investors can notice you and experts can give you some good advice that you won’t have a chance to be given anywhere else. So don’t fuss and have a talk!
2. Check the nominations
Some hackathons have partnership nominations. For example if Twitter is an event-partner then it will have it’s own nomination for those who would integrate their services or APIs into a project. So you might want to know the hackathon partners beforehand to be able to examine their services. So consider the hackathon partners when thinking of an idea to implement — that can be a win-case.
3. Think of an implementation before the hackathon
You shouldn’t study at a hackathon! Though you’ll have a lot of time you shouldn’t throw it away for doing this. This time is given to you for implementation only — so you’d better sit and code! Every possible case that may take a big amount of time should be examined before the hackathon. Have a talk with your team about possible problems and all the steps of implementation.
Read some extra literature and docs, google some best practices and save the links to be able to look through hem during the hackathon — this will be much faster and more useful than doing it on a hackathon itself. Doing this will make you feel confident about your preparations and the feeling of everything being under control will help you to have cool head.
4. Prepare the equipment beforehand
You should think of the equipment you might need during the event: laptops, cables for connecting the projector to your computer or a phone, powerline-extenders (in case the sockets are far from you), etc. If you’re going to develop a mobile app you might want to think of how you’re going to demonstrate the result: by showing the emulator or a real device connected to a screen. The later way is better to be tested beforehand.
Do not update your software right before the start of a hackathon!
5. Don’t forget about software and the internet access
If you’re going to work on the same project and share your code between the members of your team, you might want to use a version control system — try out something like Git — that would be a must-have and a time saver for you. It will allow you to share your progress with the rest of your team and you’ll be able to see the amount of work that was done during the hackathon.
You should think of a reserved way for the internet access as well. Wi-Fi network is usually provided by the event hosts but it often happens to be not enough for a such amount of people. Lack of internet can affect your coding and moreover it can ruin your demo. So it’s better to fetch a sim-card with some data plan and a device that is able to share the internet with others.
6. Care about data
Data can be essential for presenting a project. It wouldn’t recommend you to show such content as «Test news 1», «Test news 2», etc for a news aggregator you’ve just made on a hackathon. It’s more comfortable to explore a product when it has a close-to-real content so it looks natural. So collect some data for presenting and save it in a document or in a cloud before the hackathon.
7. High quality demo is the key to success
The presentation step is as important as the development step. You’d better not to neglect it. If the rules require a team to present the idea at the beginning of the event you should prepare a presentation and a speech at home. Describe your project and state what you have already done and what you’re planning to do during the event.
Tell more about your team and which member is in charge of what there. It can be interesting for potential employers and investors.
In case your product is a service — think of a logo and a colour pallet. If you use the logo and color identity in your presentations and in your product, you’ll earn respect from the audience. It will be clear that you’ve thought not only about coding but about the whole product.
8. Make the presentation properly
You should start preparing 3 or 4 hours prior to the end of a hackathon. This is enough to think of a speech and make the slides. It’s better to mark what was done particularly during the hackathon: in what status the project was before the start and what is its status now. If you really did a great job — the audience will mark it. And don’t forget the demo of course! If you’ll show a working prototype — that will be great! And it won’t matter if it’s a website or an app.
And most important is to catch the buzz on what you do! Do go on such events! None of office weekdays or student labs will give you so much emotion as hackathons!