Impressions from my 1st Hackathon

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From October 20 to 23 I was fortunate to attend my first Hackathon. Organized by MozDevz (the biggest Mozambican tech community), sponsored by the World Bank and Standard Bank, the event’s goal was to build sustainable and profitable solutions from open data supplied by the city council, among the datasets were data related to health institutions (both private and public), commercial establishments, schools, etc (find the datasets here: http://data.opengov.cc/dataset).
Although it officially began on Friday, when the idea behind the event was presented, the groups were formed and prizes were announced, the solutions designing and weaving of code only started in the next day. From the event’s 34 hours agenda over 24 hours were spared to programming only. This was the first nonsleep hackathon in Mozambique.

The idea of participating in a Hackathon was sparkling in my head for a long time. The image of it thrilled me. The break of dawn with my sore bug-eyes glued to the screen, lots of code to be written, the geek community, the exciting possibility of victory and glory! The event was not at all disappointing but proved a reality I heard of, yet, had not internalized til that day.

Code, code, code…

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When I thought of a Hackathon, I’d project several tables with people gibbously staring at their screen in an odd love affair with their IDE and typing uninterruptedly for over twenty-four hours. This was, obviously, a naive idea. Being capable of conciliating relaxation and work is key to avoid burn-out. You don’t want all your steam to be gone by half the day and keep staring at your screen fatigued and unable to continue with the rest of the event.

Eat

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This is quite self-explanatory. Keep your stomach full. Eat a lot, drink plenty of water and a few cups of coffee. Your brain needs fuel.

Socialize/Network

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I’m quite a shy guy. So approaching new people can be daunting sometimes. Even tho, I try to talk with as many people as possible. Find the most influential individuals and show off your skills, background(don’t be too presumptuous) and exchange some contact information. You may find your next job here.

Go Short

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I had 24 hours at my disposal, that time simply isn’t enough to build the next Facebook! When at a hackathon keep your solutions simple. Focus on building an MVP and working on your business strategy.

Business

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I always thought of making business with the same aversion the devil looks at a cross. It seemed like something only soulless individual would do. I believe a lot of people have the same concept. It’s quite simple, tho! You may have the most wonderful idea of them all. Have you figured how to make money with it? No? Then it’s worthless. Money is the only objective way of measuring value. Time to reconsider your positions(At least if you’re anything like myself)

Presentation

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If you’re like most people, whenever it’s time to give a public speech, twenty or so minutes before you pray for a thunderbolt to fall upon you. It’s very important to find ways to deal with public speaking anxiety.
If we’re too nervous, we may let go unnoticed the coolest aspects of our products. Time to work on your presentation skills! You’re never too good beyond improvement.

Opinions construct and destroy

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During the event, professional computer programmers and business people were there to serve as mentors and aid us at the rise of a finger. My group and I decided to take advantage of this. After the sketch for our product was completed we called the first mentor, after carefully listening to her opinion we redesigned it. ‘Why stop here?’ We thought, ‘Let’s keep them coming’. The product was altered over and over again always taking into consideration what the mentors suggested. This was a big mistake. Of the 24 available hours, we lost almost half designing our product. Just like everywhere else in life, don’t ask too much for opinion, trust your vision too.

Team game

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It’s time to toss into the trash the old loner programmer stereotype mainstream media depicts. Programmers are pack animals. Probably no other work field is so community driven. Everyday hackathons, expos and all sort of events are happening. No empire was built by a single man.

Communication

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Ninety-nine percent of all our problems arise from an inability to properly communicate(I admit that that statistic was made up). Being capable of communicating effectively both your thoughts and feeling is essential. When you’re working with a team you realize this. While sharing your ideas with your peers try to be clear, keep your discourse short and accessible, using overly long and complicated words will only make you look stupid and presumptuous not smart.

Keep it Cool!

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I’m only human, so I hate to lose. Even so, I understand that the desire to win over every situation will make me very anxious. Sometimes I try to keep it cool. All of it may sound like excuses from a loser. To hell with it! Having fun and experiencing new stuff can be a victory in itself.