Five golden rules for organizing the best hackathon

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In part one of our ultimate hackathon guide, we showed you how to get the most out of participating in a hackathon. But what if you want to know how to organize the best hackathon ever? Don’t worry — we asked hubraum Developer Lead Mario Bodemann (a man who has organized countless hackathons) for his tips.

1. Keep your expectations in check

You’re unlikely to end up with these fully-fledged apps that you can just smack a price tag on and take to market. You’ll get feedback on the technology, which is arguably more important. 

2. Go small (if you can)

Personally, I feel like big hackathons with big prizes don’t always generate the most creative solutions. Big prizes mean people get so fixated on the money that they end up too focused on the goal — they’re not interpreting the assignment in the most unusual or original way, necessarily. Smaller gatherings also mean you’re able to chat to everyone and it’s easier for people to get to know each other. 

3. Think about the duration

One day is too short. If there’s any problems with installing software or issues with hardware, you won’t have enough time for the challenge. But at the other end of the scale, I once did a week-long hackathon and felt burned out by the end of it. Two to three days is your sweet spot.

4. Find the middle ground

If you don’t give people any guidance at all, you just say, here’s the technology, do whatever you like with it, you won’t get great results. But I’ve also seen the other extreme, with organizers issuing a task list rather than giving participants creative freedom. If you just have an organizational board full of items to be done, this is not a hackathon, this is work. 

5. Make sure you’re learning, too

Hackathons aren’t just a learning experience for the participants. So don’t ever host a hackathon without meeting with your colleagues afterwards to figure out what your takeaways were. More technical experts on hand? A simpler or more complex challenge? The trick to organizing a great hackathon might just be doing it a few times over. 

Okay, what hackathon should I go to?

If we’ve piqued your interest you might be wondering which hackathon you should attend. Mario recommends attending any of the following…

We participated by hosting the Berlin part of the hackathon. Tadhack is a great independent hackathon. I’ve chosen this one as a top three pick since it’s well organized and has what I consider the “right” difficulty level for a hackathon beginner: it starts with a small challenge and allows you to learn on the go.

I joined the postman hackathon before with an ex-colleague and had a great time coding with APIs. What I find most compelling about this hackathon is its global by nature attitude: Since postman is a tool you can use anywhere, it was a virtual hackathon that anybody with a computer could join. Also the sheer number of organizers coordinating the event is impressive, which also makes for a great experience! 

For the third hackathon, I would like to highlight something a bit different, but emphasizing where the hackathon scene started. In the twice-yearly Video Game Competitions: Ludum Dare it gets creative coders involved in building a game as well as sharing their knowledge. 

Want more great tech tips — or to attend a hubraum hackathon to see our organizing excellence IRL? Plans are in the pipeline: stay tuned. Otherwise, check out part one of our ultimate hackathon guide here.

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