5 Things to Remember When Planning Hackathons

July 12, 2016

8:00 pm

Hackathons are a great way for a small company to gather together and interact in a manner that’s fresh but still focused on creation. For anyone unfamiliar with the phrase, it’s the term describing an event in which a group of computer programmers get together to work intensively for a set period (often 48 hours) on a specific software or occasionally hardware program. It’s a great way for workers to explore interesting ideas they’ve had, even if they’re too weird or risky to attempt normally.

Plenty of amazing products have risen out of hackathons, but they serve a function even if no working app or service manifests by the time they end. As Khan Academy puts it in a recent blog post, the benefits are many:

“Reflecting on our favorite experiences, we found that being able to work with others you don’t normally work with is a good way for the team to get to know each other better and bond a bit more. We also feel a sense of release of pent-up energy and a morale boost as all the constraints of building production systems and careful design and testing fall away. Most importantly, it allows individuals and the organization as a whole to learn a bunch of new things and explore areas that were previously unknown.”

Khan Academy even has a few pointers for those hoping to throw a similar event. Here are a few healthy hackathon tips:

1. Kick People Out at Night

Plenty of these events can run 24 hours a day, which can run people ragged and leave them all sleeping in on Monday. If you kick people out around midnight and don’t let them back in until nine the next day, you can’t ensure they won’t cheat and keep working, but you’re encouraging a healthier approach to the event.

2. Cater Healthy Meals

Skip the junk food, and provide substantial, quality meals for lunches and dinners. Sugar highs don’t last forever, so this makes a difference in the long run. There are plenty of options but as long as you are avoid the chips, both salty and chocolate, you should be fine.

3. Pick Hack Week or Hack Weekend

Some workers have a family or other commitments that will keep them from coming in on the weekend. But a full work week of hackathoning might result in projects that are too large to be realistically covered. And weekend hackathons can easily feel more loose and easy-going, since they’re not during normal work hours. Figure out which works best for you and make the commitment before people get involved.

4. Brainstorm Before It Starts

You don’t want to spend time right at the start of the event trying to decide what to do. It’s like trying to pick out what movie to watch on Netflix: It takes forever and it just delays the actual function. Settle on your team and the passion project ahead of time so you don’t waste any time getting to it.

5. Have Fun

The Khan Academy crew picked a Harry Potter theme, and everyone dressed up. Remember: It’s more important to try something cool than to succeed at it. Stay loose, go with the flow, and you’ll definitely enjoy yourself enough to try to same event next year.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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