So, what is the most important/interesting thing about participating in hackathons?
To this day I am not sure about the answer, I think there are several interesting aspects of hackathons, the learning and sharing part is, of course, important, but I would say most experiences are subjective and each one has very personal reasons. For me, I really like the thrill of having a sleepless night programming, I don't do that often and I would not like to do it, but every now and then I can easily stay up for more than 36 hours straight and enjoy it, it is like a drug to me.
I am not here to discuss that, but to talk a bit about three things I consider every developer should meditate about after participating in a hackathon, three practical and important things:
- Grab an idea and write it down in a visible place.
- Make assumptions and get a working prototype.
- It is a social activity, spend some time interacting with others.
Hackathons are about sharing ideas, it can be very illustrative to see how others solve the same problems you face in very different ways. Keep it simple, it is not about edge cases, it is not about mathematical completeness, it is just about proving a point, that is, you have an idea that is worth working on.
Clean and efficient code is good, but again, I don't feel is the main objective of the hackathon even if it is evaluated. As a programmer it is very easy to fall into the trap of trying to write code as if you were working in your day to day job, but it is not the same, the code that goes into production should be robust and efficient but the code in a hackathon should work as an assertion, your idea is something that is worth pursuing.
If hackathons were about ideas for solving problems and the ability to code them they would probably be just another contest, but there is a lot of people involved and infrastructure that would not be needed for a typical competition and I am sure that is because the main reason behind a hackathon is to share ideas, openly and freely, to get to know other people interested in the same topics as you and to learn about human aspects of those other participants.
Probably you noticed that I put tagged this post as #career. The reason is that a hackathon reflects very well some aspects of work that are often missed, we learn the importance of the intelligence and after twelve or more years of education we care so much about this measure, we associate it with success in life, but intelligence is very hard to measure and it is more important to decide on what to focus, chances are you won't have time to do everything you intent to and the point is to decide, if you have a limited amount of time, what you want others to know about you.
If you have read so far maybe you are wondering which hackathon it was, well, it was Zeit Hackathon and I have to say that it was an amazing experience, I really enjoy the relaxed but at the same time very focused atmosphere and I think we all will profit from the creativity and quality of the entries. I will make a follow up post talking about the technical side of this experience.