We’re sponsoring (and setting a challenge at) this year’s Hack24, so with that in mind we thought it would be helpful to create a mini-series around hackathons and hack days.
All the advice in this post can be applied to any hack event, so make sure to bookmark this post for future reference!
If you’ve got any tips or advice on preparing for hacks, please let us know on Twitter and we’ll add it and credit you.
Two weeks to go
With two weeks to go until your hack, it’s time to get planning. Go through all the information available about the event and make notes about the schedule, challenges, and challenge setters. Don’t forget to check social media accounts, Slack channels and any GitHub info as well as the main websites to see what documentation and sample code is available.
Rate each challenge out of ten based on how interesting you find it, and from there develop a shortlist of favorites. This makes it easier to decide on a challenge with your team, or find people who are interested in a couple of the same challenges as you are.
If you’re traveling a fair distance to the event, make sure you finalize your plans at this point, including somewhere to stay as a ‘just in case’ backup if the venue doesn’t have its own facilities.
Now is also a good time to start thinking about teammates and discussing challenges with other participants, especially if there’s an easy way to do it online like through Slack, a forum, or a hangout.
A week to go
Try to get have a good idea of your team in advance, including how they prefer to work, what they’re comfortable with, what languages and frameworks they want to use, what useful peripheral skills they have (such as design or copy), and why they’re taking part. It can be good to build a team with different strengths and traits, but you also don’t want to teammates who clash. Having someone who’s super competitive and someone else who wants to learn or play with something brand new doesn’t always mesh well.
This also applies to how you intend to spend your time as a team. Decide on a schedule beforehand, for example plan for 1 hour, code for 2 hours, have a 15 minute check in/retro, code for 2 hours, and so on. You don’t need to decide every detail this far in advance, but getting a good idea of how you all plan to work together is crucial.
Don’t forget to include views on down time; some people prefer to power through while others set aside specific hours for sleep and breaks. Either option is fine, but resenting other team members’ choices isn’t, so be clear on that in advance so people have time to process the information and aren’t sleep-deprived when the topic comes up.
Hack events are often a chance to try out a new technology or tool. Perhaps you want to put Kafka through it’s paces or try out some new ways of using Redis. Now is the time to make sure everything is running on your development machine. Download everything, make sure everything is working, get familiar with any SDKs you need and ensure you’re not going to get sideswiped by an environment conflict that will drain precious hack time.
3 days to go
Think about what clothes you want to wear to the event. Aim for maximum comfort with loose-fitting clothing and layers that you can add or remove easily to suit all temperatures. Always aim to bring a second set of clothes to the event even if if you’re not necessarily planning to stay the whole night right now, just in case. If you’re staying in a hotel, with friends or in other accommodation, make sure you set aside another hack-friendly outfit so you know you have something comfortable and practical on the second day too.
Decide on what devices and hardware you’ll need and walk through your setup in your head. Buy portable chargers if needed, and consider additional devices for quick testing or extra screens.
Next, prepare your development environment. Add relevant SDKs, have your choice of (supported) language ready, make and run a quick Hello World if needed, test any new devices you’re planning to use if you’re not familiar with how they’re set up, and download and install anything you might need. Pick all your tools in advance and limit the number of new ones. You’ll also want to co-ordinate this with your teammates to make sure everyone is comfortable and ready to go.
Finalize your travel plans, including what time you’re planning to arrive at the event and where you’re meeting. If you’re not familiar with the location, it’s always beneficial to have a quick look at Google Maps’ Street View to get an idea of what’s there and what the facilities are like, along with any opening times of potentially useful stores or bars.
The night before
Now’s the time to check the last few things off the list:
- Go through the schedule, double check plans with friends and teammates, and finalize any little details you’ve been putting off until nearer the time.
- Make any final notes on challenges, resources, team discussions etc. and have them ready to go. By this time you should have an idea of what you want to do and the challenge(s) you’re taking part in. Everything should be fairly flexible in case you end up working on something else entirely, but any kind of planning is important for providing focus.
- Set some goals, even just mentally, so you’re clear on what you want to get out of the event, differentiate between experiences and achievements, and can measure your own success.
- Prep other tools that will be useful, such as Dropbox and Google Drive, to do list/task software like Trello or Todoist, and GitHub.
- Charge all your devices, find and pack all your stuff (particularly any spare chargers and batteries).
Most importantly, get a good night’s sleep so you’re fired up and ready to go the next day. Good luck, and have fun 🙂
What are your top hack tips? Tell us on Twitter!