Why Engineers & Designers NEED to Attend a Hackathon? Guest post - Oza Klanjsek

by Drina Nibbe
May 14, 2013

Why do engineers (and designers) need to attend hack-a-thons                      

Guest Post by Oza Klanjsek

If you've never been to a hack-a-thon, they are typically a 24-48 hour event during which time your team needs to build a prototype for a product.

So think of it as “build-a-working” prototype.

It’s a great practice on focus and determination within the set requirements. You will build something that actually works and is demo-able. Do not attempt to ship a version 1.0 of your product. Similar to your programming job interview: design, work on a quick (and dirty?) prototype, and the one that will actually be ready to demo in 48 hours. The worst thing to see at the presentation time is a team that explains how they wanted to build this or build that but did not have enough time. I use it as a discipline and focus exercise.

Usually, hack-a-thons attract a diverse group of people and the true spirit of innovation is bred in these environments.

Requirements won’t change but you can modify the path to your goal, depending on your team skills. Approach it as a good practice to learn to interact with other talented people on your team. Apply your passion to your project: practice to convince your teammates to work on your idea or get convinced to work on someone else’s cool idea.

Build your network of people involved in technology. Denver is a small tech community; mostly, we all know each other. It’s great investment in your future. You might even like what some of them do for a day job, and decide to join them there.

Interact with the sponsors; learn about what they do and what they have to offer. You might even like some of it and decide to work for them one day too.

Denver and Colorado are especially well served with open data, learn about datasets available from local, regional and national catalogues. Hack4Colorado is a great opportunity to demonstrate why governments should fully embrace open data. Projects built at hack-a-thons are usually built with general public benefit in mind.

If you’re an engineer, this is your chance to get better at Github, it’s a deep ocean of knowledge to explore. The hack-a-thon projects are small in general, but need to be setup quickly and modular enough to accommodate people fluctuating from one team to the other, in a short few days. If you happen to be an expert on Github, even better, share your knowledge and educate others on the right practices.

Learn something new: Specify the license for your code. (when was the last time you ventured in code licensing)

Write a beginner’s tutorial and link to it from your project home page.

If your project is a library or API, feature some example code on your project homepage.

Attract a marketing person to promote your work or learn how to promote your project and/or code.

Go for a competition: practice for your presentation, they are some cool prices involved at Hack4Colorado! Just imagine all the attention you will get as a winner and impression you’ll make on your pears.

Learn to take a positive, “look on the good side” approach to responding to comments about your work.

And most importantly, do not forget to have fun, it’s a fantastic opportunity that makes our tech community shine. I’ll be there. Will you?


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