You Can’t Sprint A Hackathon

My company recently put on our first hackathon, and fortunately turnout was a little light at about 20 people. Fortunate, because there are a lot of lessons to glean from both sides of the hacking.

Being one of the staffers, I saw what it takes to keep everything running smoothly, given all the moving pieces. But I also saw the teams formed, how they interacted, and what road bumps they hit. Here’s what I learned:

Time may be limited, but rushing causes more harm than good

At some point, the realization hits that you have x number of hours to finish the task at hand. Anxiety sets in, stress-levels steadily rise, and irritation is directed at anything and anyone that so much as moves. It goes without saying that this doesn’t lead to your best work. Take a deep breath, and keep working at a normal pace.

Play well with others

Rolling Han-style (aka solo) doesn’t bode well for you chances against team players. Strength in numbers and such. That being said, grouping up on paper isn’t enough. You have to distribute work evenly, help each other, and communicate. And try to see each other’s points of view, it’ll reduce conflict which means more time to work.

Sleep is not overrated

In the not so immortal words of Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother, “Nothing good happens after 2 am.” Red Bull and Monster can only get so far, and once you start running on fumes, you become error prone and unbalanced. Get some sleep and come at it with fresh eyes in the morning, because a night can make the difference between an unsolvable problem and a trivial one.

A proof of concept is more valuable than an unrealistic PowerPoint

Groundbreaking ideas require a great deal of creativity, but all the creativity in the world won’t turn the imaginary into reality. You’ve got to prove that you can build a viable prototype to stand a chance at taking home the prize.

If nothing else, it’s a learning experience

You don’t have to win the hackathon for it to be a worthwhile undertaking. If you approach the whole experience as an opportunity to learn and grow, you’ll benefit no matter what the outcome of judging is.

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