So you are thinking of hosting a hackathon but you’ve never done it before or could use some tips. I’ve been a part of many hackathons as both participant, spectator and judge. Some hackathons were great, some were so so and some were just awful. Here are some things to consider when holding a hackathon.

  1. Connectivity One thing we NEVER want to worry about at a hackathon is connectivity and bandwidth. That’s a given. We should only have to worry about our hackathon project, not trying to find a wifi signal or futzing around with the Wifi password. Along with that, there should be plenty of outlets. We really hate going to hackathons and having to fight for power outlets.
  2. Clear schedule / agenda We want to know when things begin, when code freeze occurs and judging takes place. When lunch and dinner is served is also very important.
  3. Prizes What’s going to motivate a developer to give up his weekend to code on your API? I would venture developers who come to hackathons already have side projects. They probably command a decent salary or consulting rate. Prizes have to be compelling or worthwhile. Having multiple prizes also helps so it’s not a winner take all situation.
  4. Multiple categories/judging criteria Having multiple categories for prizes is another great motivator. There could be different prizes for Best Overall, Best Design, Best Mobile, etc etc. This way someone might feel like they might have a shot at winning if one of the categories matches their strong suit.
  5. Make sure it works If you are holding a hackathon where developers use your API or code library works. The hackathon is NOT the place to be debugging it. The developers are not there to find your bugs. It should just work. Along with that, make sure that the API key and whatnot are readily available.
  6. Good food Pizza and red bull are great but many people I run into have special dietary needs. Some are vegan, some are vegetarian. Often times these developers are totally neglected when it comes to their dietary restrictions. Make sure you take care of these folks. Make sure you also have enough food. On especially long hackathons, snacks are always welcome.
  7. Clear/accessible location People hate getting lost. Make sure to provide adequate instructions to finding the location. It also helps to have signs saying “Hackathon” pointing in the right direction. If the location is locked down because it’s the weekend (as hackathons are often held on weekends), then make sure that there’s someone to let people in.

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