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How To Take Second Place at a Hackathon.odp
How To Take Second Place at a Hackathon.ppt

How To Take Second Place at a Hackathon

A fifteen minute pump-you-up talk on how to perform well at a hackathon, codejam, buildoff, or startup weekend. Tactical advice from a veteran of these types of events on how focus, finish and place well in an intensive limited-time creative competition.


  • Intro
    • So, here you are
    • A sunny weekend in {{City}} and you are sacrificing sleep, sanity and your social life to the holy altar of enterprise and creativity in an intensive limited time competition
    • You're my kind of people
    • And as my kind of people, you hate to lose.
    • And why not? Losing stinks like a bag of rotten hot dogs
    • You're here to bring the thunder, deliver the pain, and open up a can of code-driven whoopass and take home the gold
    • Well, this talk won't help you with that
    • This talk will help you take second place at a hackathon
    • This talk will help you get the most out of your hackathon experience and have a blast while building something you love
  • Bio
    • Developer evangelist for Twilio
    • Technical background
    • Though there is some debate, the hackathon that started this craze was back in 2006
    • Since then I've been to a whole bunch
    • And placed in quite a few
    • I've learned a few things about how to approach these things and am happy to share that experience with you
  • First Place at a Hackathon
    • Wanna take first prize?
    • Easy - just cheat
      • Prepare something ahead of time
      • Bring in a ringer
      • Bribe the judges {{show their pictures}}
  • Second Place at a Hackathon
    • Second place is a lot harder to win
    • Second place requires
      • Talent
      • Teamwork
      • Commitment
      • Luck
    • Second place requires all the ingredients that make a good startup
    • These types of competitions are great crucibles for forging the character of your company
  • Real solutions for real hackathons
    • Well, thanks Rob. Like we didn't know that
    • Here is some real tactical, pragmatic advice for participating in this event
    • Go With What You Know
      • Use only tools, techniques, technologies and frameworks with which you possess intimate familiarity
      • This advice goes equally for technical and non-technical team members
      • A competition like this is a poor environment to learn Django for the first time
      • Similarly, if you've been dying to do responsive design, you may want to wait for a different opportunity where the time limit is so extreme. This will only be showing up on one laptop or mobile device
      • Not steeped in regression analysis? Someone in the crowd is going to ask why you went with a linear regression instead of a nonparametric technique
      • Hackathons are not the place to "fake it til you make it"
    • Get to the Demo ASAP
      • You're not building a web service, you're not building a prototype of a web service, you're building a demo of a web service
      • You have two effective minutes to demonstrate this
      • Feature richness is not important here, feature quality is
      • Iteration is more important than a feature checklist
      • No demo == DNF
    • Avoid Common Technical Pitfalls
      • Oauth
        • Only use it for a service you already have in production
        • None of them are the same - if you know Facebook and Twitter, you're a highly valuable resource
        • Apigee is a lifesaver here
      • Users
        • Put it off if you can
        • Pick a framework that has users built in (Django, Rails, Zend, Google App Engine)
        • Don't make your own users to satisfy a framework preference (Flask, Sinatra, CodeIgniter)
      • "Well, it was running on my laptop"
        • Pick your deployment option early
        • Heroku, dot Cloud, GAE great
        • EC2 is a bigger hassle, make sure you have experience
        • Deploy frequently with non-technical team members serving as testers
    • Remember the Goal
      • There should be two - and only two - products of this weekend: your vision and your demo
      • Each should reinforce the other
      • Vision
        • Defined problem with a solution
        • Sell the philosophy, not the market or the model
        • The view with the naked eye, preferably lifted to the stars
        • Humor wins hackathons
      • Demo
        • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
        • Do one thing - and only one thing - well
        • That one thing should represent the obvious utility of that philosophy
        • Code freeze 9am day of the demo
        • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
      • Shit you should avoid
        • About page
        • Excel forecast
        • Name-dropping investors
        • Google Analytics graph
        • Intro videos *unless they are truly epic
  • Conclusions
    • Boil down your weekend to five minutes of awesome without pause
    • Do one thing and do it well
    • Having fun is the best way to ensure success
    • And hey, if you lose, you're in pretty good company


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