Tips for the 2017 Open Data Challenge Hackathon

In just a few days, the 2017 Open Data Challenge Hackathon will begin! The 48hr event is sure to be something incredible for our local community. It will bring in partnerships with the Department of State, Government Information Center, Technology Forum of Delaware, Food Bank of Delaware, Network Delaware, and Tech Impact (as our fiscal sponsor). To say we’re excited is probably a vast understatement, and we want everyone participating to feel the same energy we do.

As a little help for all our registrants, we thought we’d put together a little cheat sheet of what to expect to help you hit the ground running from the very start.

What’s a Hackathon like?

It’s important to note that types of hackathons are as diverse as the people who participate in them. For us, we’re focusing on our community and our health. While we don’t shame the idea of working nonstop from one spot without ever eating or sleeping, and drinking nothing but red bull to code like you’ve never coded before…that’s not really what we’re about. We want all members of our community to be able to have a part, and to enjoy themselves in every aspect of the event.

If you’ve already registered for the big weekend, you’ll notice you can reserve a spot in different areas. It’s not just ‘1 ticket for the hackathon, please.’ We’ve broken it up into 3 main categories and another for those who just want to sponsor the event:

  • Developer
  • Designer
  • Community Member
  • Open Data Delaware Sponsor

The purpose of these categories is to make sure that community members of all backgrounds and skillsets can have a part. Don’t stress about whether or not you’re an expert in the category you’ve chosen. The point is really for you to decide where your focus is going to be on your team.

What are some good tips for participating?

Frankly, there’s a ton of really great articles out there about hackathons, etiquette, expectations; literally tons. We’re going to list some of our favorites in another article later this week. For now, we’ll focus our tips around a helpful template put together by local dataNinja, Bill McKibben.

Bill is a project manager by trade with some really fantastic advice on how to plan a project. For our hackathon, he talks about 5 main steps involved.

1. The Beginning

When you arrive at 1313 Innovation on Friday evening, be at ease knowing that everyone is feeling exactly like you. Everyone will be excited, ready to work, and probably at least a little bit anxious. This is all completely normal.

The start of the hackathon will be very guided, so you don’t have to worry much about that. We’ll give you the detailed challenge statements you can chose from, judging criteria, and a high level idea of what our project owners (The Food Bank of Delaware and Network Delaware) are looking for.

We’ll also give you snacks and a chance to get to know each other with a bit of networking and smiles.

2. Assemble a Team

Here’s where you come in. You’ll have to decide which challenge you’re most interesting in tackling. We’ll split the two different challenges into different rooms to help out with organizing. At this point, it’ll be up to you find like-minded community members to build your team.

We have two recommendations on this point: be diverse and widen out.

It’s really easy to want to stick with people you know and are familiar with in these kind of competing events. But remember, this is for our community. We’re all involved, and the best project will likely stem from a group that is broad in it’s skillset. Remember those 3 main categories? When you’re building your team, think about some of these points:

  • Do we share the same end-goal in competing here?
  • Do we have all our skillsets covered?
    • Team lead
    • Developer
    • Designer
    • Organizer
    • Documentor
    • Presenter

Also remember that teams can be no larger than 5 people. Plan wisely, and challenge yourself to reach out to people you may not know that well. You’ll be surprised just how much talent each member of our community can possess.

3. Project Definition

At this point, you’ll have your team and a detailed challenge statement. We’re going to give you plenty of opportunity to talk with your ‘project owner’ (representatives from our non-profit companies). You can ask questions, get details; whatever you need to make sure you have the information to build a successful project. Then, you’ll be off to the races.

The strength of your teamwork and collaboration will begin to show as you and your team build your plan. Remember, this is building a project, not just an idea. You’ll need more than a high-level definition of something that you think would be cool. You need to actually build it.

Make sure you really leverage the opportunity to speak to project owners. Remember that your project has to align with your challenge statement and the judging criteria.

It’s also a really good idea to take a minute to calculate time constraints; decide what is realistic to create a Minimum Viable Product in a day and a half worth of work.

4. Project Design

Or, when this really starts to feel like a hackathon.

By this stage, you’ll have a good idea of who you’re working with and what you’re working toward. Time to work. We can’t really say it any better than Bill:

  • Brainstorm with sticky notes
  • Define the structure of what you’re building
  • Draw out a preliminary design
  • Start coding
  • Regroup (repeat this step at regular intervals as checkpoints)
    • Refine design
    • Prioritize goals
    • Document progress (don’t forget you’ll have to have a presentation ready)
    • Manage the completion of priorities within the time allowed (and alter if needed)
    • Continue Coding

Each team will decide for themselves their expectation of work and working hours within the event. We recommend an agile approach like the above because it gives a steady, motivated workflow built on communication. This works much better in hackathon environments than just one giant, silent list.

5. Presentation

A very important piece of advice: do not make the mistake putting off preparing your presentation until last minute. Your team’s presentation is the portfolio for all of your hard work. You’ll be getting a little help from us with a basic slide deck to use as a template, but make sure you take the appropriate time to make your project looks its best.

As an start, here’s some of the things you’ll want to include:

  • Team introduction
  • Project definition (how does your project benefit the community and meet the challenge and judging criteria?)
  • Project home page
  • Features that make your project special
  • Summary
  • It’s a really good idea to thank the sponsors, too

And there you have it, one weekend-long event broken down into attainable steps that everyone can find a place in. Haven’t registered yet? Find out everything you need to know and register now! We eagerly look forward to seeing all the ideas and passion everyone in our community will bring to this weekend’s big event! Stay tuned for more tips and tricks coming up through the week!

Written on May 30, 2017 by Aiyani Martin