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Top ten things to consider when organising a hackathon

As hackathons grow in popularity we bring you the top ten things to consider when organising a hackathon. Such events are increasingly growing in popularity as a way to solve every day problems and get creative and technical bods together to create fresh thinking and a growing number of businesses and organisations are doing it. But how do you get it right? As well as our own advice we also hear from a man who knows — Syd Lawrence, co-founder of We Make Awesome Sh and a developer evangelist atTwilio, who has been to hack days all over the world :

1)      Get the tone right…

As hackathons grow in popularity, with many companies using them to stimulate ideas it can be easy to lose their true focus. Lawrence says they work best when their original aim is adhered to. “There are a lot of people who don’t necessarily understand what a hackthon should be truly about. They aren’t for people creating new businesses. And they aren’t for people to “show off” their skills. They should be a time and place for people to learn new things,” he says.

2)      ..and the atmosphere

This means the atmosphere of the event should be right too – reflecting the informal nature of such events rather than resembling a pressurised, corporate environment. Hackers should be encouraged to mingle and interact since that is at the heart of a successful hackathon. “Remember that it shouldn’t be serious,” says Lawrence. “A successful hackathon is if people walk away from it going “I learnt something new this weekend”. It’s a time for people to try new things. “Now I know how I can x” or “Now I know that x doesn’t really work”.

3)      Ensure your infrastructure is up to the job

A hackathon is a data and bandwidth hungry business so ensuring you have the infrastructure to cope with the extra network demands is vital to a successful hackathon and needs to be thought about before the event. Both the network and WiFi provision need to able to support up to four devices per person in order to cater for the diversification of devices a hacker may bring to the event.

4)      That you have the power to fuel the devices….

Of course such a proliferation of devices means that hackathon organisers also need to think about the power needs of their hackers with at least at least one or two sockets needed for every attendee, and more ideally. Think also about the safety aspect of trailing cables and general safety for your attendees.

5)      ….and the hackers

Hackathons are intensive, focused events therefore distractions are often ignored. But hackers also need fuelling. Energy drinks and fast food such as pizza are popular choices since they can be eaten on the go and the latter hot or cold. However organisers should also allow for proper sustenance too for their hackers.

6)      Ensure a secure environment both physically and remotely

With users bringing such an array of technology you have to think about how you will be securing the rooms and areas in which your hackers will be working and who will be responsible for equipment, as well as ensuring that your WiFi is also secured.

7)      Get the best date

Essentially the preserve of enthusiasts many hackers prefer hackfests that are run at the weekends or overnight so that they can minimise the time they are required to take off work to take part. As hackathons are increasingly growing in popularity however this trend is changing somewhat, with some companies recognising the benefits of allowing hackfests in traditional work-time.

8)      Allow a little shut-eye

Whilst energy drinks will work for some other hackers may want a chance to catch forty winks to refresh their creativity. The informal nature of the hackathons however can be extended through to sleeping provision with a separate dark, quiet segmented area often all a hacker needs.

9)      Speak the right language

Sponsors and API and dataset providers often present at the beginning of such events but it can be easy to get bogged down in information overload. Ensure the right people are presenting the right information and that they have the expertise to answer the technical questions that the hackers may come up with and that such people are available throughout the event.

10)  Judge it in the right way

Although hackathons are largely driven by friendly competition how they are judged and awarded can also affect their tone.  Some have a very corporate feel – in terms of both line-up and prizes – that turns what should be a hotbed of learning and creativity into business pitches. Judges have to remember they should be looking for new ideas and innovation rather than the next big thing.  Lawrence makes a simple, but important point: “Don’t call the final demos pitches. They are demos. You shouldn’t be pitching anything. Personally, if i hear a hackday has “pitches” at the end, they are doing it wrong,” he says.

This year’s Apps World will be partnering with The Hackfest running three hackathons through-out the two day show. Find out more about the Hackfests here:

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