Huddle recently hosted our first Hack Day event and it was a massive success. It was only our first, but we learned a few things about some important aspects that make a hackathon great. So here are our 5 tips for hosting a hackathon

1. Record everything

Get some kind of camcorder (a Flipcam works well) – at least one – and have somebody filming 50% of the time. There’s nothing like looking back at those moments which made the day great and reminiscing, and the people who couldn’t attend will want to see some footage, especially the demo. If you only film one part of your hackathon, make sure it’s the demo.

Luke adds to the idea Wall

2. Include everybody, somehow

There’s no need to limit your hack day to include just contributions from technical staff. Include sales, marketing, customer support and admin at least in contributing ideas – get them to pitch if they want to! Our non-tech staff had a great time coming up with ideas and discussing them around the whiteboard we put up to post ideas onto. Plus, if anybody feels they can make even more of a contribution, why shouldn’t they?

Hackathon Food

3. Don’t scrimp on the pizza (and food in general)

If you’re hosting a hackathon, food is of uber importance. It’s much better to have way more, than to have way too little. If you run out of food you’ll end up with hungry, tired devs. We had the usual Huddle breakfast available, plus the staple dev diet of pizza for lunch and took takeaway curry & chinese orders for everyone at dinnertime. Maybe taking orders per-person won’t work in larger hackathons, but when you’re working with a 10 to 20 people-sized team it’s probably doable.

4. Get some booze, but don’t go overboard

It’s important to have an appropriate amount of booze for the size of your team and the length of your hack day/hackathon, and the day on which it takes place. For a 16-person hack day over 10 hours, on a week day, 60 bottles of beer and a big bottle of Jagermeister is probably too much. If it had been on a weekend, we probably would’ve needed more. So, be realistic.

5. Don’t start anything until the day of the event

It’s important that people don’t start early gathering their ideas & teams sbefore the day of the event. Of course, you can’t expect people to not think about what they want to do and who they want to work with, but discourage them from doing too much organisation before they need to. If they overthink an idea it could spiral out of the control before they’ve even started working on it – it’s better that they keep their ambitions reasonable at the beginning.

Finally…

I’ve said this before, but it’s quite important if you’re running a hack day internally (for just your employees). You must remember is that this is not supposed to be a trick to get staff to do free work out of hours. It’s supposed to be open, and fun, and encourage creative thinking. If some good, shippable stuff comes out of it, that’s just a bonus. And good luck hosting a hackathon soon!

Are you hosting a hackathon soon? Or have hosted/participated in one before? What was your experience like? Let us know below.


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