A guide to Uncommon Hacks, written especially for first-time hackers
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README.md
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README.md

We cannot wait for you to attend Uncommon Hacks February 10-11 at the Polsky Exchange in Chicago, Illinois. We hope you make friends, learn, meme out, but most importantly, have fun ᖍ(ツ)ᖌ.

Before the Hackathon

What to Bring

Here are some common choices of things to bring to a hackathon.

  • Computer
    • Or any other hardware you are interested in using
  • Chargers
    • Phone Charger
    • Computer Charger
  • Spare clothes
    • Changing clothes is an awesome feeling if you’re into it
    • We also recommend bringing a hoodie incase it gets cold
  • Blanket / sleeping bag
    • We will be providing a room for sleeping, but it might get cold, especially since it’s February :(.
  • Toiletries
    • We will have toiletries, but we recommend bringing your own toothbrush and paste, face wash if you use it, dry shampoo, tampons, etc.
  • Headphones
    • Sometimes, you gotta jam out
  • Extra space for swag
    • You will be getting T-Shirts and other stuff, so come prepared with extra space
  • Warm clothes
    • It will be cold in Chicago (estimated high of around 25ºF/-5ºC), so if you’re not coming from the area be prepared for cold and wind (and possibly snow)!

Getting There

See directions.md for directions.

Additional Comments

If at all possible, try to arrange your schoolwork and schedule so you won’t have to be worrying about homework over the weekend. You’ll be able to get the most out of the event, and hopefully will be re-energized by taking a break from your schoolwork!

A week or so before Uncommon Hacks, you’ll get an invite to our Slack group. If you haven’t used Slack before, it’s a messaging app for teams that we will use to distribute announcements during the event and facilitate communication. Once you join, you’ll be able to talk to other hackers to look for teammates or find people to carpool with. During the event, Slack will be the primary way we make announcements, and will also be used to connect with mentors and others for help.

Tenative Schedule

See hack.uncommonhacks.com for the latest info.

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 10th

  • 9:00 AM – Registration starts
  • 10:00 AM – Breakfast
  • 11:00 AM – Interacting with sponsors
  • 11:00 AM – Team formation
  • 11:30 AM – Opening ceremony
  • 12:00 PM – Hacking starts
  • 12:00 PM – Intro to Hackathons Workshop (hosted by JP Morgan)
  • 12:30 PM – Team formation
  • 5:00 PM – Mini-event
  • 7:00 PM – Dinner
  • 8:00 PM – Cup stacking
  • 10:00 PM – Mini-event 👻

SUNDAY FEBRUARY 11th

  • 12:00 AM – Midnight Snack
  • 1:00 AM – Soylent Pong
  • 7:30 AM – Morning yoga
  • 9:00 AM – Breakfast
  • 12:00 PM – Hacking ends
  • 1:00 PM – Expo
  • 3:00 PM – Closing ceremony
  • 3:45 PM – Prizes are awarded
  • 4:00 PM – Event ends

At the Event

Staying Cool

In a hackathon environment, surrounded by people who hack away, seemingly intensely focused, it is easy to feel intimidated. If it is your first time at a hackathon, or your 100th time at a hackathon, you may feel that everyone around you is more talented than you. That’s not the environment we want to sustain. Chances are, the person next to you may have had the same problem you had a week ago! Know that hackathons are learning experiences for all.

Cool

Safeness

If ever at any point you should feel unsafe at the event, PLEASE come up to a team member, message us on Slack, or contact the MLH representative. We will handle the situation accordingly.

Getting Settled

When you first arrive at the Polsky Exchange, there will be a short check-in. You’ll receive a n30n wristband to denote yourself as a hacker, a name tag, a dope t-shirt, a slick sticker, and important information for the day of the event.

We have a number of sponsors who provide support for this event. When you’ll arrive, you’ll have a chance to talk with our sponsors about what they do. Sponsors often come to recruit for jobs and internships, let you know about their products for developers, and might sponsor a prize or two.

Forming a Team

Many people choose to work with teams at hackathons. Some people may already have a team going into the event: from school, from being meme friends online, etc. But do not worry if you do not have a team at the event! We will have a team formation activity at the event for you to find others to work with who have the same technological interests or same meme interests as you.

More importantly, have no fear if you think you’re not good enough to work on a team. There is always something for everyone to do on a hackathon team, whether it be design, the front-end work, the back-end work, connecting the circuits for the hardware device. Just make it known that you are willing to work and to learn, and you should be great.

It’s also totally fine to work on a project by yourself.

Deciding on an idea

When you have a team, start thinking about what you might want to build. You can build basically anything you want, with the main rule being you have to build it entirely during Uncommon Hacks. We’ll have a number of themed prizes, such as “Most Uncommon” (see the Devpost site for the full list), which you might use as inspiration for your project. You also can look at last year's submissions for some examples of what kinds of projects people have worked on. We’ll also have the MLH Hardware Lab (link will be live during the event), which will have many devices that you can use for your project!

It can be hard to decide on an idea, especially if you’re working with teammates you’ve just met. Have fun brainstorming, and you can approach finding an idea from either the perspective of what you are interested in, or what technologies you are interested in learning.

Don’t feel like your project has to be the next big thing or something you’d use every day. We encourage you to make something creative and fun and possibly totally useless! What is important is that you have a good time building it and learn in the process.

Opening Ceremonies

Once you’ve had some time to get settled, we’ll officially start the event with the opening ceremonies. Some of our sponsors will give a short presentation about what they do. You’ll also hear from our partner Major League Hacking, which helps organize over 200 student hackathons each year and provides organizational support. We’ll also go over the basic rules for the event, and provide an overview of the next 24 hours!

Working on your Project

After opening ceremonies, it’ll be time to jump in and get working! You’ll have 24 hours to make your project.

Starting your Project

Once you’ve settled on an idea and are ready to dive in, one the first barriers you might run into is setting up your environment and doing all the yak-shaving necessary to start writing code. This can seem difficult, and it can be tricky to get everyone on your team on the same page, but it’s important to do these first steps. Check out the Additional Resources section for some getting started guides for different environments.

When you have a free moment, it’s also wise to draft your submission to Devpost, which is the site we use to track submissions. Everyone on your team should make an account, and you can add multiple people to a project. Most other hackathons also use Devpost for submissions, so you’ll be able to build a portfolio with the projects you make!

Asking for Help

There’ll be a point where you get stuck on something when working on your project, whether it be a technical roadblock, a decision you don’t have enough information to make, or a question about best practices. We will have a few mentors during the event who will be around to answer any technical questions, and there are also are probably other hackers who might be familiar with what you are working with. Just send a message to the technical_help channel on Slack, and someone should get back to you!

If you have a question about the event for the Uncommon Hacks team (such as a scheduling questions, rule clarifications, etc.), send a message to the questions channel. There’s a good chance someone else has the same question, and this lets anyone on our team respond. You can also message any of the team members directly on Slack if necessary.

Additional Events

At Uncommon Hacks, we’ll have numerous fun events, such as workshops done by students, Soylent Pong, SOLO cup stacking, and much more. These workshops are meant to be fun learning experiences that serve as a break from your project. And yes, Soylent Pong is what it sounds like - beer pong, a common college drinking game, but with Soylent, the meal replacement drink. We will also have water available.

We want the other events to be a surprise… so you will not find out until the day of ;).

Food

We’ll be providing all meals and snacks throughout the event, so don’t worry about bringing food (unless you love very specific snacks). If you have dietary restrictions, all the food should be clearly labelled and there should be options for everyone. If something isn’t labelled or you have any other questions, please let us know.

Sleeping

Hackathons have a reputation for uninterrupted work with little sleep, but it’s important that you have energy for the entire event and don’t burn out. You should take some time to get a decent night’s sleep.

At Uncommon Hacks, we’ll have a large room for sleeping. We’ll also have earplugs (highly recommended), and would recommend you bring a sleeping bag and/or blanket.

Finishing your Project

When you’re almost done with your project, make sure to finalize your submission on Devpost and click submit before the deadline (12pm on Sunday)! Devpost will be the way we look and submit projects, so it is key that you register for a team otherwise your project will not be judged. You can select which of the theme and sponsor prizes you want your project to be reviewed for.

When time is up, you must stop hacking. However, you’re allowed to debug and make small fixes to their programs if necessary, e.g. if during demoing your hack you find a bug that breaks your application and the fix is only a few lines of code, it's fine to fix that.

Demos and Presentations

The Expo

After hacking has ended and a short break for lunch, the main room will be set up for demos in a science-fair style expo. We’ll use the Devpost submissions to assign each group to a table, and announce the table assignments when they are determined. Your group will be given a table number, and there will be some time for judges and other participants to walk around and see your projects. Even if your project isn’t fully working or you didn’t finish it, you should still present! People like hearing about what you tried to do, what challenges you faced, what technology you used, and what you learned.

We will have a number of judges who will be going around and asking about your projects. They will be using a judging system called Gavel (which was built by the HackMIT team) on their phones to rank the projects. Using fancy math, Gravel aggregates all the judges’ responses and determines a ranking, which is used to determine the top projects. Themed prizes will be judged separately, and sponsor prizes will be judged by the sponsors, respectively.

Final Presentations and Awards

After the expo, we'll have some of the top projects present, and then will give out awards. After some closing remarks, the event will finish!

Additional Resources

About Hackathons

Technical Resources

Once you have an idea for a project, you’re going to figure out how to build it. Of course, Google is one of the best ways to figure out how to build your project. For example, if you would like to build a website, you can google “How to Build a Website” or “HTML/CSS/Javascript.” Some great tutorials for beginning new topics are CodeAcademy, Tutorials Point if you know exactly what language you’re using, or Treehouse if you like learning with videos. MDN is a fantastic resource for web development and browser extensions. There are also many MOOC’s (Massive Online Open Courses) online. Once you know what stack you will be using, you can dive in by researching tutorials online for what you’re building online. Ensure that you are dividing up the work evenly within your team. Our advice is to take it step by step - write one piece of code, see if it works, then build on the next part. Debugging is annoying, so tread carefully!

About This Guide

Written by Ben Weinshel and Juliette Hainline, Uncommon Hacks

This is a living document. Please email celery@uncommonhacks.com with any comments or suggestions, or file an issue or pull request on this repository. If you’re organizing a hackathon, feel free to fork this repository and adapt this document for your needs!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.