Virendra Rajput (BkVirendra)

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Things I learned from my first Hackathon

By Virendra Rajput Tagged:

This was my first real Hackathon experience. Real because it was my first full fledged hackathon — before this I did participate in a few programming events at college’s where we had to create an app in a couple of hours. It was organized by Google Developers Group. As usual it was a 24 hours hackathon.

So here’s what I learned -

  1. Prepare in advance:

While you are planning to attend a hackathon, you might want to short list a few ideas, days before the event. Brainstorming this with a friend will be even better. It also helps, if you can define the scope of the idea that want to work on. Try to answer a few questions — How big will the project be? Can you build it as a solo developer? How familiar are you with  technologies that you will be using? Are the organizers putting any constraints on which technologies you can or can not use? (Come on, you seriously don’t need to be aware of anything, apart from the language itself! In fact, you can just figure out everything else)

I began thinking of ideas as soon as the hackathon dates were put up. Me and my my brother (also an hacker, and my partner at the hackathon) used to brainstorm, discussing whether or not it was realistic, and did we have enough skills to execute it. Also if the thing we build, would it be of any use to people? Are we solving an real problem? We short-listed a few ideas that answered the above questions positively.

  1. Deciding on the idea:

One question that you would like to ask yourself while deciding on the idea would be — is it realistic? This is one major decision, because since you’ll have a very limited amount of time with you, with limited resources. The idea actually has to be well planned before the execution really begins. Even though we had thought of a few ideas in advance, it was quite confusing to settle on one when the hackathon started.

At that point the most important thing that you have to consider is — whether or not you can execute it well in the allotted time? Once you make the decision you have to break the execution down into stages, and allocate enough time to each stage. This really helps you with analyzing whether or not, what you’re trying to achieve is doable and helps you keep check on time later.

In the beginning, it seemed to turn out to be quite challenging for us. Since the idea that we decided had much bigger scope, and only with 24 hours in our hands, it seemed too tough but we weren’t going to back down.

3. Have awesome people in your team:

Well, the idea that you’ll be working often requires skills. And the better the skills you have, the more efficiently you can execute you’re idea. This is one thing, that depends on how well you can convince some other guy (a developer probably), to work on your idea. The more convincing you are, better the talent you’ll attract.

We were pretty lucky on this one — we had one of the best front end developers (I ve meet yet) Jay Kanakiya, along with Narendra Rajput, a hardcore Ruby developer and myself (a Pythonist). So we weren’t really short of skills at least. I am a Python/Django developer but it won’t be cool to praise myself :-)

  1. Get stuff done:

Hackathons are all about getting stuff done. At the end of the day, what really matters is how well did you execute your idea. And many a times its not easy, because when you get stuck at something (everyone does), and you might not succeed even after spending the precious time figuring it out (it just happens).

Well this is the prime time, where you are really tested on how well do you make decisions. You have to come up with the plan B (no-one really has a plan B), an alternative. Its all about how do you actually #hack the problem (come with a crazy solution, which before that never existed).

We did face, enough problems, but the way we hacked our way was the fun part.

And did I tell you we won the second prize?

We are told we will be featured, on - so hold your breath!

The app that we built at the hackathon is available in beta here.

We are working hard to launch it for public soon so share your feedback (good and bad).

Special thanks to Nilesh Bhojani for helping me with the blog post.

You can view the hackathon album here.

Do let me know if you are going for a hackathon and need a hand! Would be really happy to help :)