The Next Web
I love covering a good hackathon. There’s a lot to choose from around the UK with many creative, competitive and altruistic versions of a coding get-together where people make amazing things in a short amount of time.
One thing I do see at the end of these events though is a few people looking worn (if elated) by the experience. Looking after yourself is a good idea and will help you to make the most of your time while you’re having fun working.
There is already a great manifesto for hack day organisers, so here’s a guide to surviving a hackathon as a participant, with a few tips from people who attend and operate these events. They might seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget when you’re consumed by a project.
Read carefully about the hack day you’re about to attend so that you can make the most of it. Some are very competitive and more about winning a prize where others are more about getting together with friends and making something.
Be open-minded about what you might end up doing. When there is a theme to an event, you might have some idea of what you want to do, but at others, there will be all sorts of ways to use your skills and learn new things.
Melinda Seckington is a Data Scientist at EmberAds, a blogger and an organiser for Geeks of London and BarCamp London. She recommends an open approach to getting involved, “There’s always some person there that you haven’t met before or a new API you have not played with before. For me it’s a sort of testing ground, a nice weekend where you can try out stuff and learn something.“
Where possible, try to take a look at what you might be working with. Seckington says it might give you some ideas for what you will want to make, “ If you get a chance to look at an API you’re unfamiliar with, then it might help you rather than seeing it for the first time on the day.”
Be sure also that an event suits your beliefs. John Bevan is a hack day veteran, he’s worked with the BBC and the Guardian, Rewired State and Good for Nothing and he notes that there are many different types of hackathon and not everyone likes the same approach, “There’s always been various different communities of hackers who attach themselves to different events. Some are fans of open data and public services who will like events like Rewired State. You also see some of those people at entrepreneurial, startup focused events. People choose the ideology of an event that will work for them, fit their skills and interests.”
You should also be aware of what is expected of you when you attend, Bevan says,”To work for Good for Nothing on a charitable cause is understandable for most people. But there are new companies entering the hack day arena who get people to do work for them for the price of a pizza and a beer.”
Not beer. Well, drink beer if you like, but drink something else too. Dehydration will affect your concentration and general well-being and you’ll feel the effects surprisingly quickly if you don’t get a glass of water or some liquid inside you regularly.
Seckington says it’s easy to forget to rehydrate, “I do forget to drink and I have realised that I have not had a glass of anything for an entire day in the past. I’ve actually been at an event where somebody actually told me to go and drink something because I was looking a bit pale. It depends on how focused you are, you can get carried away.”
Drink and code?
Know thyself. It might be tempting to “down a few looseners” at a hack day to be sociable. Hack days are usually more about the coding so make sure you are still in a fit state to get things done. If a couple of beers puts you in a better frame of mind to be creative, fill your boots, but if you’re not so great with the booze, give it a miss and boost your productivity….