There are many things we wish to know before attending the first hackathon. We approached it with an infectious gusto and sugar-loaded snacks to fuel us for the coming 24 hours. But our preparation stopped there. We were all pretty clueless about how to go about it-the presentation, the split-up of the work, etc. We have learned that different hackathons throw different challenges at you, so no amount of advice can wholly prepare you for what’s in store in your next hackathon.
But, it’s always better to arm yourself with some tips before entering the arena for the long, hard battle that’s about to ensue. Here are 5 tips for you if you’re confused about how to prepare for your next hackathon.
1. Go Team!
A good team always has a mixed group of a frontend developer, a backend developer, a graphic designer, a business developer, etc. Get to know your friend’s strengths and weaknesses and choose a diverse team accordingly. More importantly, it’s important to go with people that you get along with (and can have fun with). Some people can’t count the number of times they have encountered a team consisting of people who are all insanely skilled but haven’t done well in hackathons purely because of a few unresolved scuffles and ego clashes during the hack. Choosing a leader is the next most important thing. Bottlenecks are inevitable during a hackathon, and a leader is someone who’s decisive and has enough experience to guide the team towards progress when obstructions are encountered.
2. Look Elsewhere
While some hackathons have their problem statements released weeks in advance, some only release it during the hack. If your next hackathon is like the former, take time to sit with your team and look up the previous winners of the hackathon, projects that have won other hackathons, etc. Discussing existing ideas and how to improve them can prove to be a great mental exercise for you and your team, and help you come up with good ideas of your own. Even if your team has already decided upon an idea, I would recommend going through with this exercise because you never know where you’re going to find a feature that you could add to your project or a component that serves a similar purpose to one in your project but is much cheaper. Below are some projects/products that I found interesting, and can get the wheels in your brains rolling:
3. Communication is Key
An image that always popped up in my head when I thought of a hackathon participant is one of a college student with headphones on, smacking away at his keyboard continually for 24 hours, completely content in his own little world of linked lists and stacks. After attending a hackathon, I learned that this is not quite the reality. It’s very important to talk to those around you. Talk to potential end-users of the product and understand their pain points. Talk to the judges and mentors, and understand what they’re looking for. Talk to other teams and learn about the problems they’re facing, cool APIs they’re using, etc. Include the insights that you’ve gained from talking to all these people, in your product. Most importantly, talk to your team. Before the hackathon, define a place for communication, like Slack and exchanging files, like Google Drive. During the hackathon, have short meetings every 3 hours or so, and share your progress.
4. Tick Tock
Once your team has an idea that has been thoroughly discussed and chalked out on paper, take at least 10 minutes to evaluate the time it’ll take to execute your idea. While it may be tempting to add complicated but impressive features, spice up the interface, etc., it may unfortunately not be practical to implement these in just 24 hours. Pick only the features that can be built during the hackathon. If possible, hold a mock hackathon with your team before the real one, just to get a grasp over the possible problems that you might encounter and the time that it takes to solve these issues. This is also when you can set up a boilerplate project (boilerplate refers to sections of code that have to be included in many places with little or no alteration) to save time during the actual hack.
5. Present to Impress
Your presentation can either make or break your hackathon experience. A good presentation explains what problem your product is solving, how it’s different from the competitors, and market statistics related to your product. Put yourself in the judges’ shoes and question yourself about what you would want to see in a pitch. I’m sure the answer would be – a clean, concise and entertaining presentation. Don’t talk too much about technical theory unless you’re asked to. You can make your pitch interactive by involving the judges and/or the audience. Remember-Practice makes perfect, so have a trial run before you make your way to the judges.
Towards the end of the hackathon, you will probably find yourself tired, starving and completely drained of the optimism that you walked in with. Strangely enough, regardless of whether you win or lose, you will probably find yourself searching for another hackathon to attend in the near future and that is what we like to call the “Magic of Hacks“.