Hosting Hackathons – What We Learned

HackHub is a Vancouver-based recruiting platform, that aims to connect talented individuals with great career opportunities through our hackathon events. For all the newbies out there, a hackathon is a sprint-like event in which programmers, designers, and anyone with an innovative mind can come together and collaborate on projects that will be judged and scored. They can span from several hours to several days. Imagine a tech oriented Dragon’s Den, but each team only has a limited time to come up and finish their beta project!

These events are a great way to bring the community together and allow students, sponsors and professionals in general to connect with each other in a fun, welcoming environment. Although it is a competition, most attendees come for the atmosphere and to just have a fun time with other like-minded peers.

This is the fundamental basis of why HackHub organizes hackathons, to bring people together in a fun learning environment where everyone has something to gain. Our recent hackathon, EduHacks 2017, garnered 500+ attendees attracting industry sponsors such as Adobe, Microsoft and GitHub. The planning and hosting of EduHacks gave the organizing team lots of experience and lessons to take forward to their next event. Here are five things we learned about hosting hackathons:

1. Have a Plan B, and a Plan C
Planning a hackathon is definitely no easy task and with hundreds of people attending things are expected to go wrong. Luckily we predicted this ahead of time and developed a plan B for everything, along with a plan C and plan D. For example, in case the Wi-Fi went down, our HackHub application wouldn’t be accessible, so we had scoring sheets and USB drives available for the judging rounds. “Expect the worst and hope for the best”.

2. Do things EARLY!
Procrastination is a game-killer; there will always be last minute changes whether it be the script, scheduling or even programming new features. Luckily we finalized almost everything and rehearsed things over and over again a good time distance before the big day. We literally had three rehearsals where we slightly changed things up each time, leading towards a smoother event overall.

3. Communication is key
The mistake we made was not having enough walkie talkies with our staff members resulting in a bunch of us running around trying to find each other. However, we had multiple slack channels for varying levels of management that went really well. It was a great idea to have mentors have their own channel so they could take turns in helping the teams and network with each other. We had our own internal channels for different topics to help organize our communication better as well (media channel, tech channel, photography channel, etc.), which made finding relevant information easier!

DashView team pitching their project before winning the $10,000 grand prize

4. Choosing the right venue
Having the right location to host your hackathon is crucial. Conventions, which are often used for hosting other events, are a great choice as they provide security guards, fire exit plans and Wi-Fi for hundreds of people. One improvement we can take forward to our future events is to make sure there is good lighting for photography at the venue.

5. Sleep is important 
As organizers, our mental states had to be in peak condition to be able to respond to varying things that could occur during the event. We could not afford to go 24+ hours without sleep like our participants so we developed a sleep schedule to ensure there were enough staff on site while others took naps. Although none of us got more than three hours rest each, it was adequate enough to perform our duties without crashing. The adrenaline and excitement from the hackathon also pushed us to work through the night; It’s hard to sleep when you’re having fun!

All in all, we learned many things from hosting this hackathon. With event planning, you can try to prep yourself as much as you can but in the end it all comes down to experience. As mentioned before it’s always good to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. We’re excited to continue growing and learning through our future events.

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