Whether you are a young developer or a seasoned professional, one of the hardest parts of software development is finding a juicy project to work on. Hackathons are the solution to that problem.
I have spent many weekends pushing my limits and hacking away with fellow coders/creatives. I’ve found that hackathons are among the most rewarding experiences as a software developer. The amount that you learn, the people you meet, and the product you create are all what makes them so rewarding. They are a lot of hard work, but all that pays off at the end when you look back on your experience. Be warned- hackathons are not all fun and games; it is important that you take some precautions in order to ensure that your time is both productive and enjoyable.
Here are some quick tips to help make your next hackathon a success!
Do yourself and your team a favor by planning to get a good night’s rest each night. When everyone is well rested, it keeps everyone in a good mood prevents any technical snags. I often find that my productivity crashes the later it gets. I usually call it a night when I have gotten stuck on a relatively simple problem. After a full night’s rest, you will be blown away by how much more efficiently you work. It’s not worth wasting precious time on a problem that will take you less time if you have a night to think about it and your brain is full of energy.
2. Come Prepared
Psych yourself up and get those creative juices flowing a couple days in advance. If you know what technology you will be using- get an environment set up so you are ready to jump in straight away. Have some ideas to bring to the table, this helps kickstart the planning session and can help your team start the development process quicker.
3. Keep an open mind
Listen to the new ideas your team members have throughout the hackathon. Sometimes it can be hard to be open to new ideas for the project once you’ve got it all envisioned. However, hackathons are a team effort and it's important to work like a team and keep everyone's interests in mind.
4. Keep it simple
Nothing is more satisfying than walking away from a hackathon with a complete product. In order to achieve that you need to come up with a simple project; one that you think you could finish in just one evening. Things almost always end up more complicated than they first appear and have been underestimated. Overlooking the ramp up time on new tech is a common cause for this underestimation. It’s hard to estimate and forsea issues when you are working on a new tech stack or approach- which leads us into my final word of advice.
Don’t stray too far from your realm of experience. I’ve gone through a hackathon working on a technology for the first time, and it was one of the worst experiences I’ve had as a developer. I spent 48 hours pulling my hair out trying to debug something that I had little understanding of. I also found myself spending most of the event just reading and watching tutorials, rather than working on our app. Recently I participated in the 2018 global game jam and it was by far my most successful hackathon to date. Rather than trying something entirely new, I spent a couple weeks prior to the hackathon studying new things in unity that I have never done. I then used the game jam to apply those topics. It was a great way to avoid the overhead of tutorials whilst still trying something new.