Lessons Learned from Participating in Two Hackathons
Over the past two weekends, I participated in the Launch and Wix Hackathons in San Francisco. At the Launch Hackathon, I built a seat map that integrated with a company organization chart by myself. At the Wix Hackathon, I worked with Sunny who is a developer at AppDynamics to visualize Yelp data trends. My goal at both of these hackathons was to build products that solved business problems. I learned a few lessons I wanted to share that will increase your productivity at hackathons.
1. Work with teammates. All the finalists at both hackathons were teams of two or more people. During the Launch Hackathon, I worked by myself, but when I worked with Sunny at the Wix Hackathon we were able to accomplish more than 2x my output at the first hackathon. This is because of our complementary skill sets. I focused on building out the web app and Sunny built the automated system for gathering data.
2. Work with familiar technologies. I used Ruby on Rails in both hackathons. I did not have focus part of my time to learning a new language or framework because I was using technology I was already comfortable with. This allowed me spend nearly all my time building the product. Also, I would recommend having a broad overview of the open-source software ecosystem for your particular language. For Ruby on Rails, this means being aware of what gems are available. This way you will not have to reinvent common features, such as authentication and permissions.
3. Have a rapid feedback cycle. At the Wix Hackathon, first I built out a static view to make sure Sunny and I were on the same page in terms of our product vision. Next, I made this vision dynamic by allowing a user to enter date through a form. Finally, we connected the graph with Yelp data that made it even more robust. By working towards small measurable goals we were able to stay motivated.
4. Show your product within 15 seconds of starting your presentation. I heard this from multiple people at both hackathons. It is overwhelming to see so many products during the demo presentations, so it makes sense to show your product before losing your audience’s attention. Many teams spent too much time talking about the market and the problem they were solving.
5. Tell a story and end with a “wow” moment.The best presentations used the persona of a typical user. They ended the presentation with a “wow” moment that told the audience why this example user needed this product.