1. Diversify your teams skill-set
  2. Brainstorm and make decisions before hand
  3. Make a working product quickly
  4. Iterate your working product
  5. Present a working demo
  6. Focus on the things that work
  7. Have fun!

Tips and Tricks from a Hackathon Veteran

A better hack-result for your time! After participating in several DE Hackathons here are some of the tips and tricks we have learned.

Team Composition – Form a diverse team.
Team composition is a critical component to a successful DE hackathon. It may not always be possible to find team members with the skill sets you need but diversifying as much as possible increases the potential for a successful hack. Often people can fill multiple roles but be careful that you don’t put too much weight on a single person.

Look for a mix of Marketers, Developers, Designers, and some additional mix of experience. There are different kinds of developers from backend to front-end developers and you need a mix of those skills. Designers, both web and graphic, build your UI’s and images that make your hack shiny. Also consider other skill-sets such as marketer, project managers, analysts, or even plain old entrepreneurs as any of these bring a perspective that the others may not.

  • Some team members can fill multiple roles
  • Look for a mix of different skills sets
  • Consider unique skill sets unrelated to development

Pre-Plan – Brainstorm and make decisions before hand.
In the spirit of a hackathon you should not be writing code before the event and that can take away from the fun of competing. You can talk about what you want to do. There are many decisions that you can make prior to the hack that will save you time and effort when the hack begins. Brainstorm then decide on a single concept and narrow it down. Be patient as it may take a couple times talking about it before you find a good idea. Also, make platform and other technical decisions about your hack, such as programming language and IT infrastructure, as well as web servers, that may be required.

The more decisions you have agreed to before you start a hackathon the more time you can spend implementing your hack.

  • Start talking about your ideas early
  • Decide on a concept then narrow it down to an idea to execute
  • Make platform and technical decisions ahead of time

During the Hack – Start simple and make it work.
Having a working hack is better than having a great idea. The quicker you can get a working hack the quicker you can make it better. Iterate, but keep it working. Small iterations are the best as it allows you to keep adding functionality while always having something you can show. If your team can work on different functionality at the same time it can speed your progress up even more.  Keep working and iterating as long as you can. If you run out of time just use the latest working hack for your presentation.

  • Start simple and make it work
  • Iterate and add functionality
  • Keep the hack working during small iterations

Presenting – Show me the functionality.
Presenting your hack is just as important as creating your hack. You should be thinking about your presentation before you are even finished with the hack. Focus on the functionality that works. If you didn’t get something working then try not to talk about. If you are asked about something that doesn’t work then be honest, tell me what it should do; but don’t dwell why it doesn’t do it. Time is limited so avoid using slides and video unless they are really important to explaining the functionality. Showing people a working example of your hack is the best way to present your hackathon project.

  • Focus on the functionality that works
  • Talk about what the app should do not what’s missing
  • Avoid slides / videos unless needed to fully explain your concept
  • A working demo of your hackathon project is desirable