Sunday, June 5, 2016

Red flags in hackathons

As a participant and mentor of hackathons I felt the need to put some tips together. This post is intended to be for participants but also hopefully mentors/organizers can earn some insights as well. Some of the things may sound silly or really obvious but trust me, I have seen this happen many times.

Be inventive

Don’t hack on something that’s already done in the market. Try to think out of the box rather than picking up an idea that’s in the market and briefly adapt it to your problem. Think on the problem you want to solve, define a boundary (sometimes cool ideas arise in hackathons but they are enormous and can’t be tackled in few days), then apply technology to solve it.

Don’t login/register

Spending time developing a login screen as well as presenting it and actually going through the registration flow during a demo is a waste of time. Login/register is a really well known flow by everyone and it doesn’t add any meaty parts to your presentation. This can be mocked and start directly with a story.
That brings me to: tell a story! Be prepared to present your app with context, not just explaining the features. This makes it easier to explain what you are doing and why.

Document your repo

Add a README file to your repo explaining the problem and listing team members, and possible screenshots or a YouTube video demo. Also, links to presentation or anything else valuable.

Be ready to present

Do a mock presentation and try your demo at least one before showtime. Have your laptop ready with the slides open and the emulators if any already loaded. Be sure to use all the screen, that the content is visible and well displayed.

No mic fights

When presenting and answering questions, give your teammates some space. It doesn’t matter if they are kind of struggling with it, if you go and interrupt them or show a completely opposite point of view of an answer it’s not cool at all.
Also, don’t retain the mic answering all the questions. Maybe another team member is more keen to certain questions, so before start talking, shortly deliver who want’s to answer.

Moderate your language when presenting

Don’t use bad words neither cursing when you are presenting in the stage!

For organizers of hackathons

Now I’m going to be a little bit arrogant and share some tips I’d like organizers of hackathons to take into account. I’m not the most qualified person to critique this, but still I’ll share my vision.

Avoid conflict of interest

If you have several stakeholders represented by the same person/company, this creates a conflict of interest. Roles like mentors and judges are antagonists and can’t be the same physical person.

Do judge and announce a winner

There are some hackathons that are only collaborative, and after intensively working for one to three days no winner is announced. I think there should be always a winner announced, and this does nothing to do with making the ambiance thought or closing the doors to cross-teams collaborations. I have been in hackathons where there is a first price with money, but still mentors have the clear goal to collaborate with others. After all, the event is to motivate students to come up with cool solutions and also make them learn how to move in an extremely fast environment. “Keep the eyes on the price” but if there is no price I have seen students getting disengaged after the second day if they having a hard time.

Conscious mentors

Be sure that the mentors have great soft skills. Otherwise it can happen either:
  • They don’t properly know how to motivate students and push them to do work.
  • Push students too hard and make them feel anxious or even panic.
Also, if applicable, be sure to stand clear that mentors are not enemies and can collaborate with each other for a greater good.