A 24 Hour Hackathon And My Experience.

January 21, 2013

I can say I'm no stranger to 24 hours of straight work. It has only happened on a handful of occasions and was typically to meet a deadline. On January 18th from 5pm to 5pm the next day, I participated in a 24 hour Hackathon. I was on a team of six and our goal was to build a website to serve a very specific need. We successfully hammered out a fully functional product that would have taken at least a month of development under normal circumstances. Here are my experiences and learnings from the event.

Your team needs to be well balanced for your goal.

Our project was very technology oriented. We needed to push large amounts of data back and forth and had some very complex search functionality. Our team was composed of four very well rounded developers, one developer gone project manager, and one user experience expert. We split the dev work in half. Two would handle the front end and two would handle the back end. Our project manager setup tasks in Trello and worked on small parts of the website (privacy policy and other copy driven pieces). Our UX person spent time designing the site and developing ideas for features. Everyone stayed busy nearly the whole 24 hours.

Choose the right technology.

The whole development team was .net heavy and recent Microsoft releases of Entity Framework and MVC played to our strengths and allowed us to complete everything quickly and effectively. We utilized Twitter's Bootstrap framework for our layout. I've never been big on CSS frameworks, but we didn't have time to cutout and layout a site like we normally would. I took on the front end and learned the basics of the framework. I was really amazed how quickly I was able to get a good looking site up with so little effort. We utilized Asp.net 4.5, MVC 4, Entity Framework 5 Code First, MVC Web Api, jQuery 1.9 (released the Wednesday before the event), Twitter Bootstrap, an internal NuGet repository, Geolocation, Google Maps, and Facebook's Open Graph API.

Be supported.

Going 24 hours is no easy task. It is important to be supportive and supported. You wont have a good final product if someone isn't. This doesn't apply to just your team, but your family members and friends. A hackathon is 75% mental and 25% physical. 90% of the physical part is simply staying awake. We took frequent breaks to break the monotony. Some of us played quick games of Starcraft 2 and others took walks and talked to other teams. Coding can get really boring when done in long periods. My wife Skyped me a couple of times to check in and so I could see her and our daughter. It was so good to get to see them during the event.

Be prepared.

It's a good motto. I made a supply run before the event. I grabbed three twelve packs of soda, a six pack of V8 Fusion Energy and a two pound jar of trail mix. I really regretted bringing the soda. I did a lot better on the V8 Fusion. We had Monster Energy drinks available, but I knew they had more caffeine than what my body could handle. The trail mix kept my hunger in check between meals. I purchased the Hobbit soundtrack before the event and listened to it about 5 times before moving onto other music. I watched a couple episodes of Duck Dynasty to keep my moral up with some family friendly humor. My wife saved the day by bringing me a full change of clothes, deodorant, tooth brush and tooth paste Saturday morning. It felt so good to change clothes and get cleaned up a little.

Overall, I had a great time. We built out a true MVP (minimum viable product) in a 24 hour time span that could have been published and used by our target audience immediately after the event. It was an eye opening event that allowed us to flex our developer muscles and show that developers are a force to be reckoned with when put into demanding situations.


You can check up on all the hackathon tweets, pics and videos here.

©2020 Daniel Worthy

Opinions are my own and do not represent the opinions of my employer.