Hackathon Quick Bits for Beginners

I participated in my first hackathon a week ago, Gates & Facebook HackEd 2.0, with several of my fellow classmates. The hackathon’s focus was about building apps to improve education especially around college going, retention and social learning outside of school.  There are others who were there that wrote some great overviews on the experience like KWu’s post.

I just have a couple quick bits to share about this experience and what I understand so far about hackathons.

  • There is usually a purpose or theme to work towards
  • Great way to practice problem solving under pressure (like exam cramming)
  • Opportunity to meet and work with people you don’t know
  • Don’t think too much about what you don’t know
  • If there is something specific you want to practice, go for it (it’s a great space to do that)
  • Make sure you have the tools you plan to use already loaded on your computer
  • Length is a couple of days typically with people working through the night (catnapping where they can)
  • One day (like what we did) is not a lot of time (esp. for beginners) to build something substantial (so have fun with it)
  • Make sure you take breaks and take a look around because it will be over in a flash
  • Plenty of food is provided
  • Make sure to get to your demo (if you have one) when presenting
  • Present the concept even if you don’t have a demo
  • Begin with the end in mind

On that last point my friend and teammate, Marissa, kept our group on task with the perspective that the presentation was our end game. So we focused on building back from that point. We sketched out the first couple pages and agreed to focus on building with JavaScript even though we all wanted to code in Python. The reality was that we only had 3 pages and the point of our app was going to be conveyed in the look and feel of those first couple pages. When we presented, our app was very much a rough draft. Still we had something to show, we did present and it was a good learning experience on the whole.

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