AngelHack Hackathon

How to prepare for a Hackathon

When I went on my first Hackathon, I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know what to expect. I felt like our team works hard but not communicating efficiently and not everyone is on the same page about our project.

Last weekend I participated in my second AngelHack Global Hackathon in Silicon Valley.

My team worked on a “My Circle” app. Our mission was extending relationships in local communities and making people help each other. We’ve tried to make the app which would let you ask for help or offer help to your neighbors based on location. We used Amazon Alexa to create tasks with voice which makes the app easier to use at home.

My role was making a design for our mobile app in Sketch and building the prototype in Swift using Xcode.

We got the highest score in the Amazon Alexa challenge

I thought it might be helpful for others to share my thoughts on how to prepare for a hackathon.

How to prepare for a hackathon

A day before the hackathon

  • Research a page of your event.
  • Pay attention to the list of sponsors, their challenges and technologies and products they offer.
  • Come up with project ideas and prepare a pitch for your team. Try to be innovative, you can figure out the technical details with more experienced team members.
  • Carefully read all the rules for participating in Hackathon.
  • If you have any questions write them down and make sure to ask before the start of the event.
  • Find out where people communicate during event. If you’re attending AngelHack find the appropriate channel in Slack, join it and read the backlog.
  • Try to find team member ahead of time. Consider their expertise in required skills and also their ideas. The most common team consists of a two developers, a designer, a project manager who can do research, copywriting and presentation.
  • Arrive to the event ahead of time to build a team, figure out the rules and make yourself comfortable.
  • If you’re going by car have some extra time to find parking. Look up parking spots online, you’ll need to leave the car for the whole day, maybe even overnight.

Take with you

  • Cash. Maybe you will need pay for parking.
  • Charger for your laptop and phone. Make sure your laptop charger is long enough.
  • Headphones.
  • Paper, pens, pencils, markers — everything required for sketching and prototyping.
  • Your Business Cards. Hackathons are a great way for networking.
  • Warm clothes. Sometimes inside a building it can be chilly.
  • If you plan to stay overnight take a pillow and blanket (a sleeping bag is perfect). Also don’t forget things for personal hygiene.

During the event

  • Be open and talk to attendies, learn more about each other.
  • Build your team.
  • Brainstorm, pick the idea your team likes the most. Be open and don’t judge right away, give it 5 minutes.
  • Try to image how you’ll be pitching this project to the jury.
  • Assign the tasks. Make sure everyone knows what to work on and where to see other team member’s progress. I recommend using Basecamp, Trello or Google Documents.
  • Create a imaginary customer from your target audience.
  • Come up with one specific scenario of how your product would help that customer. Go over it with your team and prove the benefits this customer is getting by using your product.
  • Constantly discuss with your team the work process, make changes in your plan if required.
  • Don’t forget to take a break, drink water, breathe fresh air, talk to other teams and exchange your business cards.
  • Save some time to work on a presentation.

Presentation time

  • Don’t forget to submit your project in time. Set a reminder for this.
  • Describe what kind of problems your project solve.
  • Practice your presentation with your team and run your demo.
  • Prepare to defend the weaknesses of your project.
  • Be a little faster, then full time for your presentation. Save some free time can save you, if something goes wrong.
  • Don’t worry about winning.

Benefits

  • Meet people from tech community, they might be your future colleagues.
  • Built projects what you want for yourself.
  • Work in a team with people that you choose for yourself.
  • Create a new project for your portfolio.
  • Learn something new.
  • English is not your native language? Practice it while building something real.
  • Spend a weekend doing something useful.
  • Win prizes.

I’m sure I will have something to add to this list in the future. Please let me know what should be added in the comments!

See you on the next Hackathon!