How to Survive a Hackathon

How to prepare for and survive a hackathon

Hackathons are exciting, yet daunting; challenging, yet fun. They’re an environment where like-minded people come together to creatively solve problems while meeting new people and learning new tricks.

How to survive a hackathon

Whether it’s your first or tenth hackathon, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re prepared and that you don’t waste valuable coding time.

  • Check your hardware and software. Make sure your development environment is set up and is working seamlessly. Install any PC updates and check that all your hardware is working.
  • Do your homework. If the hackathon theme is available, start thinking about and planning an idea – but don’t write any code yet. It’s generally frowned upon to bring partially or fully developed code to a hackathon. If you know which vendors are sponsoring the event, familiarise yourself with their application programming interfaces (APIs) – you’ll likely be required to build on these; know the basics so you don’t waste time figuring them out on the day. Most importantly, read the rules. You don’t want to spend hours developing an app only to be disqualified for violating a minor rule.
  • Plan ahead. If you’re working in a team, make sure everyone knows what they’re doing. You should have people with different skills on your team – a programmer, a designer, a developer, etc. If you don’t have a team, don’t worry, people are always looking for partners at hackathons.
  • Take your own modem. While the organisers will supply Internet connectivity, the network can become congested very quickly, leaving you with poor connectivity. If you have your own modem, you can work quickly without any latency or downtime.
  • Triple check that you have packed everything. Don’t forget power supplies, cellphone chargers, video connectors, etc.
  • Brush up on your presentation skills. You should be able to explain to the judges – in a few minutes – what your app does, who it’s for, and why it should win. Hackathons are as much about learning as they are about making, so show the judges that everyone on your team learnt something new.
  • Have fun and stay focused. Your app should be interesting and fun. You’re going to be spending a lot of time on it, so make sure it’s something you enjoy. While the judges are not expecting a complete app, it should have some working features. Get those right before adding new ones. In fact, it’s best to work backwards. Start with your end goal in mind and develop your app based on your final vision. Consider using a version control system to record your changes and recall specific versions in case anything goes wrong.

Hackathons can last anything from eight to 52 hours. Be sure to get enough sleep the night before. On the day of the event, schedule frequent breaks, pack snacks and stay hydrated. But most importantly, accept the experience for what it is – an experience. You’ll learn a lot, you’ll have fun, you’ll meet new people, you’ll be challenged, and best of all, you’ll create something out of nothing. And you’ll want to do it all over again.

Intel and the iHub host regular hackathons through the Student Partner Programme around East Africa. Why not start preparing for the next one? Start coding on Intel today and get the upper hand.

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