6 learnings from organizing hackathons with next media accelerator

I’ve been working as program manager at next media accelerator for the last months and during this time we have had the opportunity of co-organizing two media hackathons: one together with NDR and ARD-Aktuell in Hamburg and another with the Mittelbayerische Newspaper in Regensburg.

Organizing a hackathon can be a tricky task since it requires a lot of preparation to make sure you manage to create an atmosphere that will allow the participants to develop their ideas into (ideally) prototypes in just 48 hours.

MZ Hackathon March 2016

To make a hackathon run smoothly I would like to share a couple of learnings with you:

  1. Food is EXTREMELY important. It’s actually what provides the teams with energy to keep on working. A sandwich or wrap could work for lunch but for dinner you need solid food, think about a curry or a bowl of pasta! Snacks are also crucial. Having 24/7 access to apples and bananas is pretty cool, however what your brain needs is stuff like chocolate, nuts or cookies for long lasting overnight energy. Thinking really hard burns lots of calories!
Pizza and beer is a tradition for the kick off evening

2. Make sure there will be energy drinks (most specifically, mate). Not that common in other countries but in Germany mate is the energy drink number one. Hipsters drink mate, developers drink mate, artists drink mate. And in hackathons we drink mate. A hackathon without mate is not a hackathon.

Mate 1337 sponsored our hackathon at NDR

3. Provide sleeping facilities for power naps. Some team members work until they faint. Many stay the whole night awake and take little naps during the day. For those ones it would be great to habilitate an area where they can rest and chill. Otherwise the probabilities of finding people lying in the floor or curled up in a corner is very high. Having people stepping on you while you try to get some sleep is not cool.

4. Set up your communication via Slack. It has been working pretty good with us and solve more than one problem. One private channel is always set up for the orga team to discuss internal stuff and one general channel to announce program changes or meetings to the participants. The last oneas can also create their own channels to discuss internally or easily get in touch with us if they need help in a certain are.

5. Collect the name of the team members and team. I have seen myself running after all participants to almost force them to write down in a piece of paper their names and team name five minute before the jury was about to announce the winners. Don’t do like me and create from day one a Google Doc where teams write down their names/emails and all kind of info you might need to contact them in the future. Running after them after the final pitches and before the prizes is very tedious and not fun work.

“Fact Buddy” was the overall winner at NDR and ARD-Aktuell Hackathon

6. Enough rooms/space and powerful wifi connection. Ideally there are several rooms where teams can work in their own, use the walls to stick post its and count with a whiteboard or similar to write things down. A very big room for all teams together can result very noisy and make it challenging for people to concentrate. We need to try to offer the participants the best working environment.

Keep posted, our next media hackathon will take place in June in Düsseldorf!

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