Win Your Next Hackathon

My first Hackathon landed me a job at Facebook. Here’s how to make yours a success too.

3 min read

Kim recently wrote about how attending tech events can be really beneficial for you. Conferences are good, but in my opinion, hackathons are a great way to meet people and learn new things while actually creating something and showcasing your talents.
When I went to my first hackathon - a women-in-tech hackathon - little did I know my team would end up winning and get me interviews with Facebook. Since then I have participated in many hackathons, both as a coder and as a member of the jury. Today I'm going to share a few pieces of advice for a successful hackathon project.

 

Find a winning idea

If you don't have an idea already, spend some time at the start of the hackathon to brainstorm with your team. One way to do this is to take two existing technologies and combine them to create something new. For example, you could use a Twitter API and a rhyming word API to create poems out of real-time tweets.

You can also use an API in a new way. During my first hackathon, we used the accelerometer WebAPI to get movement data and count rope skips.

If the hackathon has a theme, take a quick survey to make sure you are not working on the same idea as another team.

 

Scope, scope, scope

With only a handful of hours to meet people, work, and get ready for the demo, you'll have to stay focused. Developers have a serious tendency to underestimate the time needed for a given feature, so try to aim for a minimal prototype.

Think of the core feature that makes your project interesting and work on that. For example, if your initial idea is to create a dating app that uses feature recognition to learn your physical preferences and predict attraction, you might want to scope your work to just the feature recognition part.

Your demo can then show a few photos of people and a script that finds characteristics in them, and you can use the presentation to show the jury that you thought out a concrete use-case for your technology.

A winning project only needs to do one thing well.

 

Stay focused on your goal

It's very common to get many ideas for improvements as you work on something, but don't get distracted. Judges will not be impressed if the only thing you have to show for your work is a list of ideas and unfinished features. Focus on having your core component up and running first.

Once it works, one person should focus on the demo while the others work on polishing up or adding more features.

 

Win the audience over with your demo

Demo time in hackathons is usually kept short, so make the most out of it. The audience is tired and sometimes doesn't pay close attention as everyone focuses on their own coming demos. Surprising them or making them laugh are good ways to stand out.

Present your idea with a slide or two and keep your product demo as the main event. The best demos are interactive. Bonus points if members of the public can participate. Also, make sure that people can see what's happening. I like to use bright colours and big fonts, but a good UI should also have visible feedback. A loading indicator wherever the action performed is not instantaneous goes a long way to making your app appear to work properly.

It's also a good idea to make your work accessible - on a private server or GitHub for example - so judges and attendants can play with it right away. However you don't want to distract them while you speak, so only show the URL (and maybe show a big QR code) at the end of your presentation, while you're taking questions.

 

Finally, winning is not everything. Make sure to take some breaks and enjoy your time. Good luck!

 


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Follow Alice: LinkedIn | Facebook

Alice Lieutier is proudly French. She enjoys travelling, learning new languages, good food and outdoor activities incl. rock climbing and hiking. Alice has been a software engineer for over 5 years now and joins us most recently from Facebook, where she was one of Facebook’s first London-office hires, and only 1 of 3 women in the first 60 engineers there.  Having taken off time to travel the world for 5 months, Alice joined SheCanCode because of her passion for empowering more women to enter and remain in technology.