If you’re a creative person and looking to create something amazing in a short space of time then you should consider getting involved in Hackathons and Hackdays.
If you’re a highly technical person looking to contribute your skills to a good cause then you should consider getting involved in Hackathons and Hackdays.
Hackathons and Hackdays are the future of invention for the average person. Rarely will you find the opportunity to meet and work with such a great set of amazing people and accomplish so much in such little time.
What Are Hackathons & Hackdays?
Generally speaking they are events that take place over the weekend,where people get together to work on a common cause or set of problems with a common theme.
Most Hackathon events are related to computers and the internet .. and these days in particular to the use of mobile phones. However there are many Hack events that are related to non computer tasks and with the success of these events it’s quite likely that we’ll be seeing the concept spread into other areas of life. For instance Hackathon type events are a great way for employers to find new staff.
How Hackathons & Hackdays Work
Most events take place over a weekend. Usually people turn up to the event on a Friday or Saturday, arriving either by themselves or in small teams.
If you don’t have a team you can usually find other people that are looking for fellow team members. Then the participants program over the weekend, usually presenting their idea or creation on the Sunday.
At most events the speakers are given anything from 90 seconds to 5 minutes to present.
Hackathons are becoming so popular these days that it’s usually necessary to register in advance. There are several websites out there that are used to promote these events such as Lanyrd, Meetup and Eventbite.
Also Facebook and Twitter are used to give people information about these events. And Twitter in particularly is used to give constant updates throughout the weekend.
During the event the organisers usually provide attendees with food and drinks.
To Stay or Not To Stay
The one thing about Hackathons is that often you’ll see people working throughout the night to complete their work. Some people will stay at the event and either stay awake all night or sleep at the venue. Some people will go home and return the next day.
Having done both approaches myself at various Hackathons I can certainly vouch for the benefit of having a good night’s sleep, espacially when it comes to the final day when you need to get up infront of the crowd and present your work to the rest of the group. At the end of the day it isn’t just about how much work you did over the weekend, but how well you can present your idea to the other people in the group.
After having attended around half a dozen Hackathon events the one tip I have for presenting, is probably to talk less and demonstrate more.
People want to see something that works and often it’s the people that can show what they did actually does what it says it will do that often do well.
Tips for Hackathon Event Organisers
There’s always something to be learned from attending other people’s Hackathon events and after attending several I’d probably have the following tips.
- Themes – The events I’ve always enjoyed the most had some kind of theme running through them – such as creating mobile phone apps for the Olympic Games or creating apps for a company that actually intends to use the apps created in their company.
- Team Building – After having been to several events now, I’d say one very useful thing is to make an announcement at the very beginning of the event to tell people if they’re not in a team to go to a certain part of the room and network with other people that don’t have a team to work in. Often a lot of time can be saved over the weekend but spending a bit of time at the very beginning to make sure the team you join fits in well with your skill sets.
- Prizes – One of the worst prizes I ever saw at a Hackathon was giving each of the winning team a single iPad. The reason a prize like this is a bad idea is because if you’re in a winning team of 3 or 4 people it’s not very easy to split an iPad. iPads are fairly expensive and for many it would be easier and simpler for the organisers to give the money equivalent (approx £400) which could then easily be split. By giving a prize such as this it also encourages more people to work alone, when the biggest part of Hackathons is the opportunity to work in teams of people.
- Service as a Prize – Quite often services are offered as a prize at Hackathons – These in itself are fine as long as the service provider is going to live up to their end of the prize. Sometimes such prizes will involve a lot of extra work being done after the event and if the prize giver doesn’t live up to their end of the bargain it’s a little disheartening on the attendee that won that prize.
- Food – One of the great things about Hackathons is that usually food is provided. However people have all sorts of varied tastes or personal choices when it comes to food. I’d say the main thing is to ensure that there is at least a vegetarian option available at all times. And perhaps a small vegan or gluten free offering available as well. One of the best things served at a Hackathon event I attended was wraps. The wraps were easy to eat, easy to carry around and easy to hold on to an extra one for later. Sandwiches are nice but the bread goes stale very quickly when exposed to the air, wraps on the other hand stay fresher, longer in particular if they’ve been wrapped themselves in paper.
- Presentations - The best presentation layout I ever saw was at Over The Air 2012 where the organisers had 4 presentation desks and so 4 teams could come up to the stage at once and prepare their laptops, etc which another team presented. Most Hackathon events however don’t have the space or resources to have more then one team come up at a time and present at a time and often it takes several minutes to swap between presenters, laptops and other devices. My advice here would be to at minimum get people into three groups. Those that don’t require the use of their own computer to present because their website / product is already online and can be accessed from any computer with internet. And finally put PC and Mac users in groups as there is often a lot of problems swapping between the two. Also it is a good idea to let attendees know the specs of the projector or TV being used, so they can set their laptops to the correct resolutions in advance.
Areas for Improvement
Hackathons are great events and if there one major problem it’s simply that there so many amazing people attending these events it’s impossible to meet everyone. One reason this website has been created is to help give people a way to stay intouch after the various events and also to help you to find a team to work with before the event.