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Ask HN: First time doing a hackathon, any advice?
5 points by jacalulu 1697 days ago | hide | past | web | 11 comments | favorite
Hey HN,

I'm about to participate in my first ever hackathon this weekend. I've been wanting to do one for a while and am super excited about it, but not sure exactly what to expect.

I'm doing it with 3 other friends and our idea is something we are doing purely for fun. Since I've never participated in one before I was hoping some of you who have done them could share any tips or advice you might have to making the most of it!

Focus. Focus. Focus. Too many times people want to accomplish too many things. Do one thing. Make sure it does that one thing. Make sure that one thing can be presented well. If you can accomplish more, AWESOME. If not, you still have something deliverable. The worst feeling is being an hour or two away from the end without anything working and a lot of little half-functional pieces.

Work on the stuff that shows things visually before you work on other behind the scenes parts. Try to get it to show it doing a number of things asynchronously. (A screen that populates a number of actions or data points is going to win out over a single action step-by-step demo.)

Have a screen or two that's nicely designed and laid out. Good graphics, buttons, icons.

Work on your presentation. Many hackathons are beauty contests where a tight presentation and good look will win out over serious stuff under the hood. Have a simple imaginative funny description of what it does. (Funny apps tend to win out over more serious apps.)

Build an app that can get the audience involved. "Everyone take out your cell phone and text ..." "Go to this link and sign in with your twitter credentials." "Take a picture of the person next to your and send it via email to this address."

Do something that makes use of existing data or data that can easily be gathered from users when they sign up.

So pick something simple; say a log in page, a content page, and maybe an admin screen. Something that would take about a day by yourself. Then make it with your three friends. Take the time to plan out who does what and learn to work together. This simple task can save you hours of planning on the day of.

EDIT: I mean for you to do this task before the hackathon.

Ya, we discussed the idea ahead of time but haven't gone into too much detail yet as to who is going to do what. Maybe we will meet tomorrow to clarify things before the actual event. Thanks for the tip!

Thanks for all the tips! My team ended up getting an Honourable Mention which we couldn't be happier about. Definitely going to have to start going to more of these!

Sleep. Seriously. Don't pull an all-nighter unless you really really have to.

Focus on a basic, fully working product rather than an ambitious semi-finished thing.

Ya we specifically picked something that was simple enough that we could complete, but that had the potential to build out a little more if we had the time.

As for sleep, that was definitely something I wasn't too sure about. Is it normal for people to pull an all nighter? I'm not sure I would be able to sleep before something was at least up and working (judging from my study/project tendencies in school).

Pepperoni pizza will always be the first to go.

Haha, I got the last slice on Sat, it was the first to go!

Have fun.

That's the plan!

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