Hackathon Survival Guide

Now that I have been to a few hackathons, there are plenty of things that I would have wanted to know before hand. While I can’t travel back in time to talk to my former self, hopefully what I’ve learned can prepare you.

Before

1. Check out all the details.
While this seems obvious, fact is that some hackathon organisers aren’t that organised, and some information will be on some sites and not others.

2. Make sure you ask if there are any planning or preparation meetings before the hackathon officially starts.
I’m not sure how common this is, but when I rocked up to my last hackathon I found out that there was at least one planning meeting previously, so I had to quickly catch up on what I’d missed while also keeping on top of what was going on.

3. Find out what equipment will be available to you.
More often than not, you will be given free wifi, pens, paper and post it notes, and you and your group will be expected to bring the rest — but best to know before hand than lugging around a bunch of stuff that doesn’t get used.

During

1. Put together a small team.
The smaller the team, the easier it will be to communicate and organise. This is especially true if everyone in your group hasn’t met before — it will take everyone time to get used to each others’ communication style.

2. Have one clear objective that you want to achieve.
Hackathons are generally 2 days, which isn’t a lot of time to create something new. It may be very tempting to work towards a crazy roadmap, but given what you need to do will probably require design, code, testing, adjustments etc it’s a lot to do.

3. Don’t rush into making and building. Plan what you are going to do.
Given the short time span of hackathons, it can be pretty easy to slip into building/making mode. But without a plan it will be hard to co-ordinate with your team, divide tasks etc and the end result will be messy.

4. Plan small and achievable.
Everything takes longer than you think it will, so it’s worth having a small amount of work to do, and doing it really well.

5. Be flexible, but don’t change every 5 minutes.
You may find that something you were so sure was going to work, doesn’t. So move forward with the problem you are trying to solve, and be attached to that rather than the solution. At the same time, don’t change every 5 minutes, otherwise you won’t achieve anything.

6. Don’t stress.
Stress can reduce your cognitive ability, so if you feel like you’re getting flustered, take a break, go for a walk and clear your head. Stress may also indicate that there is something that you’re worried about. If it’s an issue with the project, voice your concerns with your team, or ask one of your team mates to get a coffee with you.

7. Big personalities need to pull back.
People with big personalities can dominate conversations at times, especially in tech where there can be a high number of introverts. Big personalities do tend to take on the role of the ‘Go-to’ person of the group, and thus make a lot of the big decisions. If you are someone who is quite extraverted/opinionated, it is wise to pull back every now and then to ensure that everyone is heard. Further, not everyone has the self awareness to see when they are being overbearing, so if you are comfortable, step in when appropriate and bring the focus onto someone else.

8. People may drop out, get sick, etc.
Sometimes people choose not to come back the next day, or something comes up. Either way, make sure that before you go home have a quick stand up to make sure that everyone knows what has happened, and where all the files and documents are so they can be accessed by everyone.

Celebrate your effort and crazy journey — you’ve earned it. Photo by Yutacar on Unsplash

After

1. Chill out, grab a drink.
When the hackathon is over your may find that you didn’t win, or maybe your team couldn’t finish in time. Shit happens. Or maybe you won and got a tonne of cash! What really matters is that you got to meet a bunch of like minded people that you went on a crazy journey with, and hopefully you learned a thing or two. And that’s definitely worth celebrating!

2. Pull a sick day if you need too.
I think it’s completely ok to take the Monday off if you were at a Hackathon all weekend. Self care is always a good idea!

I hope that helps you to prepare for your next hackathon. Got any other great tips? Feel free to add some in the comments below.

This article is also available on Medium.

Nicole Commander © 2018. All Rights Reserved.