Hackathons can be great fun, a chance to get creative and to learn new skills. It had been several years since I’d had the opportunity to attend one, so I was excited when I was asked to attend Global Media & Entertainment’s in January. With the focus for the two days around big data, we were given several data sets, and with a variety of resources including web services at our disposal, we were tasked with figuring out how to make this data more accessible.
With around 40 in attendance the day kicked off with a series of lightning talks including one by our CEO Simon Evans on What it Takes to Become an AI Driven Business.
After an introduction to the agenda by the Global organisers, we were instructed to form teams and after a while I found some people that were interested in the same data set as I was. We formed a team and started to investigate the data.
This is where Hackathons can get really interesting. Being left to spitball ideas with a group of people you haven’t worked with before can open up all sorts of learning opportunities. Between pitching ideas, examining the data and fooling around with some code, the time flew. After a few pizzas and beer, courtesy of the organisers, we managed to formulate a plan as to what we wanted to accomplish and called it a night around 10pm.
We hit the ground running on day two as we’d formulated who should do what the night before. One was designing visual graphics, another was creating analytics and reports using Power BI, I was working with normalising and compiling new tables of the data set.
With the 3:30pm presentation deadline looming you could feel the intensity of the work building in the room for all the teams. With just 10 minutes to go we still didn’t have a logo and it was only thanks to the graphics guy reviving his long dormant Illustrator skills that we managed to pull something out of the bag, with a minute to spare. Working like that can be incredibly stressful, but in a fun way. It’s invigorating to work under that sort of pressure every now and then and you get a deep satisfaction from your team pulling together to get everything completed with a sense of a job done well!
The presentations began and you could feel everyone relax after such an intense couple of days. The laughter was contagious as teams revealed how they had added humorous little gimmicks to otherwise impressive, but quite serious, accomplishments. And with prizes like festival tickets and an Amazon Fire Stick up for grabs, people really had pulled out all the stops despit the tight time frame.
Sadly my team didn’t win, but it was a fantastic, challenging and incredibly enriching experience. Despite the exhaustion I can’t wait until I get to attend my next one!
Hackathon Lessons Learned and Tips
Although hackathons can vary in their setup, for instance this one had judges nominating winners in three different categories, there are a few key tips that can be applied to any hackathon:
- Try and form a team consisting of different roles, backend, frontend, QA, PM, data engineers etc.
- If you don’t have a natural PM and people aren’t keen to volunteer, pick it up yourself! It’s a great opportunity to work outside your comfort zone and to try and get others in the team engaged and discover hidden talents
- It’s a hackathon, so please, have fun, it’s meant to be
- Don’t forget the presentation of your accomplishments, it makes a difference.
- You will get a ton of new insights and information from other people, soak it up.
Finally, a big thanks to the organisers of this Hackathon, and also to my team mates.