Why I’d do another Hackathon and what I’ve learned for next time.

This weekend I attended GlobalHack4 that was held in St. Louis at the CIC. This was my first hackathon. I attended because a developer had casually mentioned to me that UXers never went to these things and they were sorely needed. Since I believe design thinking is sorely needed everywhere I marked my calendar and arrived knowing very little about what to expect. There was the potential of earning a cash prize but I learned that the real value was the connection and collaboration and enthusiasm generated at these events. Below are my ideas on what I’ll do the next time I go to a Hackathon.

Attend with a loosely connected team

On arrival, because I didn’t come with a team, I was given a way to identify my skills (design and business) and sent to a room where others were looking to build a team. It turns out that many groups arrive as teams and some teams travel around the country participating in these events. I didn’t have a problem finding a team — my friend was right design skills were sought after. But I think next time I will try to join a team in advance or at least attend with a UI designer. My team needed me to be both UX and UI and while I can do that, doing both stretched me pretty thin. Next time I’ll find a good cocreator and try to connect with other collaborators in advance. It would be great if there was an easy way to do that — like an event based social network that we could access prior to the event.

Get your tools in order

We used Trello to organize our team and Slack to stay connected with the event coordinators — I used Axure and the Adobe CreativeSuite to prototype and design — but it took some time just to get working together. Next time I’d suggest once we form a team that we arrive with a development environment set up and rough ideas of our shared tools and processes in place.

Know your must haves

I needed more whiteboard space a large monitor and healthier food to ingest. Next time I go to a Hackathon I’ll ensure some of these things are in place or I’ll bring my own.

Learn and have fun

Hackathons are a chance to meet creative collaborative folks that want to change the world — its great bumping up against so many of them in one place. Next Hackathon I will make a point of talking to many other teams when I have a chance — I plan to do some mini user research while there. I got a chance to learn about new apps like Glog and HumbleBundle and shared some of my favorites like Pearltrees and SafariBooksOnline. Hackathons also allowed me to practice soft skills like collaboration and conflict resolution as I worked with new people under tight time constraints.

I encourage all my designer friends to go to a Hackathon — I met cool people, it stretched me and I don’t think the connections I made will end after the Hackathon. The best thing? It was thrilling to see so much talent and enthusiasm in my city.