10 Things to Keep in Mind While Conducting a Hackathon

It’s been awhile since we conducted IndiaHacks 2016, India’s largest developer hackathon, and I think the event hangover has subdued. All this while lots of people have reached out to us, asking for suggestions or tips, on conducting hackathons. After having been part of so many hackathons myself, it’s safe to think that I can write on this subject.

There’s so much involved in terms of planning that I can’t specifically point out one important action item. Through this article, I hope to cover most of the doubts that people have with respect to hackathons.

Interested in conducting a hackathon of your own?

1.  Agenda: To start with, answer these questions: Why do we want to organize this hackathon? What theme do we choose? Who is our target audience? Who are the judges, the evaluation criteria, the prizes etc

You can always explore existing verticals. At IndiaHacks, we chose themes like IoT, Open Source, Artificial Intelligence, Algorithms etc. as it made sense to our developer audience.The community should be of primary concern and the company’s role should be neutral. Don’t name the hackathon after your organization / Institute (this is why we opted for “IndiaHacks 2016 rather than “HackerEarth Hack Day”).

2. Keep enough time to plan: Depending upon the scale of the event, you need anywhere from four to eight weeks to properly plan for the event.

3. Finalize a venue:  It goes without saying, nothing concrete can happen until this is taken care of. Figure out the best options available keeping in mind the hall size, how many attendees you can accommodate, availability of ballrooms etc.

4. Secure sponsorship:: To make sure that potential sponsors from different kind of domains can be part of this event, tiered sponsorship, and relevant pricing should be used for what you can provide in return for support. This can include different kinds of product / API exposure, as well as branding opportunities. Most importantly, the expensive components of a hackathon are venue, food and prize money – assistance from a title sponsor should take care of at least one of these.

That being said, as an organizer, it’s crucial to strike a balance between making an event worth a sponsor’s time and preventing the weekend from degenerating into a pitch-fest. Your priority is to throw the best event possible for hackers and the tech community. After all, when builders and innovators are exposed to sponsors in ways that don’t feel forced, everyone wins.

5. Target audience: Tap into existing developer networks and reach out to sponsors and companies with cool, useful APIs. If a company with an irrelevant API contacts you, it’s perfectly okay to tell them that the event may not be the best use of their time.

6. Marketing to potential developers – and of course students! Apart from the mundane press invites, build relations with influencers who can spread the word via social media and word of mouth. You can also ask your sponsors to help with cross-promotion and leverage their networks.

7. Bon appetit:  Okay, this point is really very important. You might face a situation where food has been over-ordered and it's painful to see it being wasted but it means nothing in front of a frenzy of empty and hungry (hungry and angry) developers.

8. Judging and Prizes: Fix on the number of winners you’ll like to select and the prizes. Define the judging parameters and set-up a panel of industry experts. The credibility of the judges and their reputation in the sector acts as an inspiration for programmers to participate in these hackathons. They want their work to be recognized and seen by the big-wigs of the industry. Convince companies to sponsor a prize and let them choose the winner. Everyone will be happy with this: sponsoring companies want developers to hack on their APIs, developers (like the rest of us) love motivation through prizes, and other fellow developers would want to have a wonderful experience of the event.

9. Attention to details: It’s just a matter anticipating what can go wrong and build safety measures to ensure that there are no lapses. Common problems that we have observed is: not enough small or medium t-shirts to give, Wi-Fi cut outs, projector stops during presentations etc.

Once these puzzling pieces are in place, the groundwork is set for a good hackathon. Good does not mean effortlessly run, by any means – execution of the actual event is entirely a different ball game altogether.

10. Wrap-up: After the hackathon is over, showcase your work to the world. Share pictures and videos on your website, do a blog post with the winners mention and get the story out in the media. Also, make sure the participants are aware what you intend to do with the hacks.

If you are a hackathon enthusiast and want to know every nuance associated with it, visit our Hackathon Handbook

About the Author

Chandrashekhar Deshpande
Chandrashekhar has been working in the PR and Marketing industry for 5 years and likes to believe that everyday is his first day at work. Idolizes Jim Morrison. Also, is hopelessly in love with music and travelling.