Lessons Learned from my First Hackathon

Posted by Matt Farmer on May 05, 2014 · 3 mins read

This weekend I participated in Atlanta Startup Weekend with the My Chef’s Table team. We placed second and it was an excellent experience overall mostly because it’s something very different from my normal operating mode. Given the choice I’d prefer to take my time with a product, so putting the artificial time limit of 2 days to build something gave me an opportunity to put myself outside my default mode of operation.

I thankfully avoided pulling any all-nighters this weekend (not even close), but I’m still exhausted. However, before I give into my desire to go to sleep and start my work week tomorrow I wanted to hammer out some quick thoughts, observations and lessons from what is essentially my first real hackathon (not counting college projects).

So, here we go in no partiuclar order:

  • On the technical end, you’re building a demo, not a product.
  • Demos are probably best built outside-in. Get a solid design, frontend markup and CSS, and some JavaScript to simulate the existence of a backend. Only bother with a backend last so that if you need to spend extra time on things the judges see (markup / styles) you can drop the things they can’t (a backend).
  • Angular JS isn’t quite so easy to just drop into. I don’t know whether or not it’s because it’s legitamately that complex or if their documentation isn’t engineered well, but I seem to remember having a much easier time picking up Knockout which serves a very similar role.
  • Positive momentum is essential. It won’t come on a Sunday afternoon. You have to already have it going starting Friday night.
  • Get some sleep. Deprivation is just as damaging to your productivity as everyone says.
  • The judges are going to ask how you plan to make money. Be prepared for that question.
  • The judges may also ask if it’s legal to do what you want to do.
  • Murphy’s law with regard to presentations is worse than it is with printers. Something will go wrong. The best thing you can do is not stress about it.
  • Murphy’s law is also in effect with version control. Though just pushing everything straight to master is quicker there were a few cases where branches and PR’s for sanity checks would have saved time / prevented unexpected WTFs.
  • The joy of talking in odd accents at arbitrary moments is not limited to just the people I work with.

And on that note, I’m calling it a night. Thanks to all the volunteers, organizers, and sponsors for ATLSW.