As fall closes in, the hackathon season reaches its peak. Here’s a quick list of tips to maximize your opportunity as you plan to participate — and win your next hackathon.
Agence Producteurs Locaux Damien Kühn / Unsplash
*Team up early.* If you already have your team picked, great. If you don’t, don’t waste time. Start introducing yourself to others looking for teammates. Relationships you build at this event will be invaluable as you grow professionally.
Most successful hackathon projects have a distinct set of components. If you’re building an application, you’ll likely have a front-end, a back-end (And database), an API. Effectively leveraging a team to distribute the work will ensure a better outcome.
"Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people." - Steve Jobs http://bit.ly/fDvtvw— Steve Rubel (@steverubel) February 27, 2011
Kim Gorga / Unsplash
*Ask questions.* The only stupid questions are the ones you don’t ask because these go unanswered. Document the answers you get and share them with your team. Most hackathons have a team of people onsite specifically to assist you. If you don’t see them or know who they are, ask the organizers. Good mentors will be available, and ready to assist.
He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever. ~ Chinese Proverb— Zen Moments (@Zen_Moments) August 25, 2017
Julian Dufort / Unsplash
*Brainstorm.* Take time to nurture ideas. Write down your ideas and share them with your team. You can teach curiosity, but you can nurture creativity by dedicating time to think. No idea is a bad idea. Write them down. When all else fails, start writing.
If you're having difficulty writing something, start by writing down the reason you want to write it at all. Then elaborate.— Avery Prometheus Rosen (@4BringingFire) September 27, 2018
Makarios Tang / Unsplash
*Communicate.* Organize your team in such a way that you’ve got constant communication (usually via Slack) with your teammates, organizers, and mentors. Hackathons are typically held over 1, 2 days or sometimes longer. Divide the overall time allotted and schedule regular sessions to do checkpoints with your team. Leverage many mediums: in-person, chat and share documents online. Above all, communicate with kindness and be open to ideas with which you may not initially agree.
“Your words carry amazing power, so when you speak, make sure you uplift someone and never put them down” #KindnessMatters— Kindness Matters (@Kindnessgives) March 20, 2018
Franck V. / Unsplash
*Drink water, eat healthy food.* Your mental output is directly related to your nutritional input. There will likely be plenty of sweets, sugary drinks, and caffeine. Be careful to not overload on these. Try to eat nutritious foods that will help you focus.
To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.#Buddha #OneHumanity pic.twitter.com/C07we6ZOdu— Denise McDermott MD (@DrDeniseMD) September 18, 2017
Clem Onojeghuo / Unsplash
*API First.* Build an API to expose your data. You’ll be able to iterate faster as well as experiment with different front-end platforms using a consistent data access methodology. A shameless plug —MongoDB Stitchprovides a phenomenally easy way to get your data, and your API developed very quickly, efficiently so you can concentrate on other parts of your app.
“If you really want to scale, build your API first “— Dave Engberg, CTO Evernote
MILKOVÍ / Unsplash
**Use source control. ** GitHub is free and provides a great way for you to store your code assets. You’ll thank me when someone inadvertently deletes or corrupts your code in some way.
git pull will save your butt.
— Chris Uehlinger (@Uehreka) August 13, 2018
git reflogis so awesome, it’s saved my butt loads of times. I keep it in a glass box labeled “BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY”.
Franck V. / Unsplash
*Use free services to host your project.* In addition to GitHub, leverage free services to aid in the development, hosting and execution of your project.Another shameless plug, perhaps… MongoDB Atlas is a Database as a Service that starts at $0.00. This is one example — but there are more. The great thing about MongoDB Atlas is that you can start for free and when your project takes off and you need to increase the capacity you can simply change the configuration on the fly. Consider using a static hosting service such as Netlify. Netlify starts for free and also has direct, continuous integration with GitHub.
MongoDB Atlas: Database as a Service. The best way to run #MongoDB in the cloud. Start for free. https://t.co/3AiFG6WwSn @MongoDB sponsored— InfoQ (@InfoQ) April 12, 2017
Adrian Curiel / Unsplash
*Don’t forget the demo!* All of your hard work will culminate in the final demonstration. Don’t neglect planning for this portion of the hackathon. The best demos I’ve seen incorporate some sort of (very brief) slideshow, and a live demonstration of your project. Show the judges that you’ve thought about explaning your project to someone who has little or no idea what you’ve put together. Speak clearly, make sure each team member has a part to play in the demonstration. Be confident — in fact, confidence is more than 50% of your message. Engage the judges — ask them questions as you explain your work to check their level of understanding. Solicit and answer questions. If you don’t know the answer — “I don’t know, but I will find out.” is always acceptable.
Adrian Curiel / Unsplash
*Have fun.* Above all else, hackathons should be enjoyable — fun. The pressure to compete will always be there and that’s good because it will drive you to do well. However, be sure to keep this in perspective — winning is nice but the goal should be to learn, grow and increase your exposure to people, technologies, and companies.
"Do anything, but let it produce joy." –Walt Whitman #inspired pic.twitter.com/h0pmuZdJPU— Michael Lynn (@mlynn) September 30, 2018
There you have it: 10 quick tips to help you enjoy and compete in your next hackathon. Do you have a question about hackathons, about data, building a project or anything — ask me. You can reach me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or in the comments section below.