Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hints for the Hackathon

Hey hackers! With hackathon season around the corner I thought I'd share some of the lessons I have learned from my hacking experiences. My first few hackathons were abysmal experiences, tons of stress, very little sleep and underwhelming projects. To top it off the following day was always spent in recovery mode, sleeping all day and only waking up to complain about hackathons. So why did I keep coming back? Well, a little bit of masochism but I also enjoyed learning topics we would never have covered in school (like web dev, IOS, or using unity). I also observed some of the approaches the more serious used to make their hacking experiences enjoyable. To get the uninitiated ready for their first hackathon, here is a list of hints that will help you hack the hackathon.


  • Get help and talk to mentors or other hackers that know the tech you are using.
  • Politely brush off those who make extended recruiting pitches for their company.
  • Split up the work effectively so everyone is busy and you avoid bottle necks
  • Don't be an ass. Keep this in mind, especially when you are tired.
You should have one of two mindsets at a hackathon, either come to win the gold or come to learn and hangout. You can have fun with either approach here are some specific hints for each of them.

 Winning the Gold

  • Make sure to plan before hand with your whole team (Id say a week in advance).
  • Learn and teach all the skills you will need for your project.
  • Map out your project (if that is allowed).
  • Make sure each of your teammates knows their role for the hackathon.
  • Sleep when you can. It helps.
  • If things go awry and you can't save them, its not the end of the world. Relax.
  • Friendships > Success. This is hard to remember but its key to getting a good group together for future hackathons.

Learn and Hangout

  • Go to any workshops you can. Leave if its a recruiting pitch.
  • Find a cool project that will introduce you to new technologies.
  • Sleep a normal amount, there really is no advantage to staying up all night unless you fall into the first category I described.
  • Maybe look for a smaller side competition to build a project around
  • Keep building your project after the hackathon, polish it and use it to get your next job
  • Don't expect to win the competition

General Programing

  • Focus on the meat of your hack! Ex: Don't build a server for mobile client if you can avoid it, use a pre-existing api
  • Functional UI > Clean Code. Try and keep it clean but don't kill yourself over code style
  • Use the api's that have the most documentation (even if they're bit deprecated)
  • Use GitHub, its free, makes it easy to collaborate and it gives you version control.
  • Stop adding features when you have 3 hours left.
  • STOP WORKING when you have 1 HOUR LEFT!

Hacking for Android

  • Avoid Fragments (unless you need tabs, or a lot of view switching)
  • Build your app for Portrait only
  • Use dp's not Pixels! (A general rule of thumb to android)
  • Use Shared Preferences not a DB
  • Avoid building your own web-service or server
  • Don't solve the basic login problem
Go out, get some swag and build something cool. See you at the next hackathon!


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