Tuesday, May 26

Why I love Hackathons, when I am not even a hacker

Last weekend I took part in my second Geekettes hackathon in Hamburg. The moment you read the word "hackathon" you instantly imagine a room full of ruby ninjas coding away 24 hours while guzzling on Redbulls and caffine. And that's a fact.  Except, you can't imagine me in there. For I don't know how to code and also hate Redbulls. Unlike Startup Weekends with lot more non-techies, hackathons are purely hackers' haven with non-stop coding on some cool ideas. So what was I doing there? Truth is, hackathons are great fun and they’re kind of addicting even for a non-hackers like me. 

Survival kit for Hackathon.
Creating without limitation is addicting.  Unlike themed hackathons, Geekettes' version was not just limited to building software. Hardware hacks were equally encouraged. So the possibilities we had were endless. Nothing is more addicting than the knowledge of the unknown, and what we could achieve in 24 hours. 

Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
Solving a world problem. Or, scratching your own itch. Whether you are coder or not, you can pitch your ideas, which could vary from finding solutions to existing challenges to "just for fun"/crazy ideas. While I pitched something of the former category last year to build one of the winning prototypes, this year I had no such plans. But sitting there listening to various company APIs and the participants' pitches, I realized that I too have a problem that requires solving. Here I will share my friend, Deb's, funnier version of the problem - "E has no time to socialize because she is busy doing sports in the evening." Oh well, I pitched it in the end.

Team Runanas. Photo credits: Nelli
Teaming up with the three Hs.  Pitching over, now is exciting part where we have to find teams based on our interests and skill-sets. From my past experience, I found that a hackathon team is just like any other successful team. All roles must be accounted for. So besides the Hackers (coding ninjas), you will need the Hipsters (designers) to build a great user experience for your project, and the Hustlers (business developers) for final presentation and also for helping the coders to realize the real-world applications of the product they are developing. We were lucky to have 8 such highly creative and energetic team members to develop the cool idea. 
Get smart people in the team, and then get the hell out of their way.
Getting uncomfortable. Learning new things. Hackathons are great events to learn new things and if you consider yourself to be a lifelong learner, you will love the vibes of such situations. For me it was important to learn about building user-stories, and explaining the idea in the simplest version possible. With the help of my teammates, I created my first user-story board. In the same way, everyone else in the team also had to get out of their comfort zones to learn new things, whether it was developing the back-end of the App, the front-end or establishing the communication between the android App and the smart watch. Building a real app with this team completely changed the way I initially thought about coding. And we had intense 24 hours of learning new stuff with new people and thus creating new experiences. Kudos to the ones who survived the whole event without a wink of sleep!

From idea to prototype.
Presentation.Presentation.Presentation. The most important part of the hackathons is the presentation time. If you can control the audience, make them remember you, present the APIs you used effectively ( if you’re shooting for a prize ), and do a short demo, you’ve got a good chance of success. But all in 2.5 minutes! Yes, we had to be really lean on what we presented on Sunday evening. But a lot depends on the crowd, the judges, and the vibe as well when it comes to winning prizes. What can you do? Use your common sense and know your audience. For starters, don't show up in your own startup t-shirts, or in a business suit and then sound like you are recruiting people over the weekend. Some crowds love just fun/ crazy ideas and any real-world money making ideas might be frowned upon (unless those hacks are crazy or results of a hacker's awesomeness). So you'll have to bet your luck on this, and do your best.
Hackathon aftermath.
Most importantly, having fun. You may win one of the prizes or you may just get stuck to a weekend project - whatever is the outcome, you should be able to enjoy it. Sometimes you will get lucky in finding potential people for a new startup, some fresh ideas that get you thinking outside the box, or some good friends that can plug you into a new side of the tech industry. At the very least, as a non-hacker you’ll get the inside scoop on what goes on at hackathons, and get to watch some cool demos. Oh, and you’ll be surely aching for a good 12+ hour sleep. Personally we had so much fun building the idea, that towards the end of the event we realized how none of us ever formally introduced each other - we met, liked the idea and started working on it. Of course, winning the Sony smart watches as prize definitely helped because we can now tinker around the app further with our individual devices as we develop it to next stage. And the fact that random people were actually asking when they could use the beta-version of the app showed this idea has true market potential. 

Having said that, I have to admit about the magic of hackathons - it's the  great synergy of minds and energies that can make anything possible. And if you happen to love such vibes and energetic experiences, why not join the next one in your community?

We were slightly disoriented in the sun, thanks to lack of sleep and enough beer.

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I did it my way by Tongue-Fu Lady is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.