Going to your first hackathon

So you’re going to a hackathon? Great. Hackathons are fun ways to meet people and share ideas. Charge your laptop, bring a friend, invite a parent to come and build their own app or watch your pitch at the end of the weekend.

For my group of girls who’ve started learning to code just this year, here’s what to expect at the Developer Camp hackathon in San Francisco.

Friday night:
Unless you’re super early, there’ll already be people in the room when you arrive. The Developer Camp hackathon has people of all ages. There’ll be chairs lined up and a place to stand at the front with a microphone if needed. Take your turn and then say your idea for an app. This is called the pitch. You need to be clear about what your idea is. Say your name and explain the problem you are trying to solve with the app you’d like to build. Two sentences, 30 seconds. Smile. If your idea is good, it can be explained simply.
All the people in the room hear the pitches and they’re looking to build apps too. So after everyone has had a chance to speak, people mingle and chat about each other’s ideas. If you like the sound of another person’s idea, go and chat to them and maybe join their team. Similarly, people may come up to you and want to hear more about your idea. For some people, this is the most exciting part – hearing what people care about and want to spend their weekend exploring. It can tell you a lot not just about the people in the room but also the world we live in!

Start working on your app. Teams are usually two or more people. If you don’t find someone quickly to work on your app, join someone else’s team. You will learn so much this way, probably more than working on an idea by yourself all weekend. Brainstorm, whiteboard, write notes, google furiously. Most hackathons have prizes for special categories or for using a particular software. These categories can help guide you but mostly you want to pick an idea that you really want to explore – chances are, if you want that app you want to build, someone else will too.
Time-wise, this is the biggest day. If you already know one of your team needs to leave early, build this into the little deadlines you set yourself – maybe the bulk of their work can be done early on? People sometimes think they can go to half a hackathon, but if you want to get the most out of it you’ll want to stay to make your app the best you can. Teamwork is really important.

cybergaragestock-523031716Meet up again and upload your entry to the competition – your app description, the name of it and the name of your team. Then keep practising your presentation. It’s up to you how professional you want your pitch to be. Do not overcomplicate things – you can have a fancy presentation with video but it might not work – what you really want is for people to hear what you are saying. For Developer Camp, most people have a working demo (basic: photos of wireframes cooler: screenshots of designs coolest: a demo of how the app functions that the audience can participate in). Remember, everyone in the room is doing the same as you. It’s a competition, but a very friendly one so never be afraid to ask for help.

Tips on wireframing

Advice from the creators of Developer Camp

Want to go?
Developer Camp hackathon is on February 24-26th 2017 in San Francisco. There are 50% off codes for Women and Girls and Students. Use codes 2017LADIES or 2017STUDENT when you register.

Claire Comins is the owner of Kidscontent and is leading the CyberGarage Girls Make Apps class at The CyberGarage in Marin, California.

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