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Adam Kleinberg

The SXSW files: Tips for a hackathon

by Adam Kleinberg

The SXSW files: Tips for a hackathon

Roving reporter, here. Hanging out in the blogger lounge at SXSW. I sat down to recharge next to Zac Bowling from SeatMe, a startup aiming to give Open Table some competition. Zac was just featured in Wired because he's a self-professed hackathon junky.

There's been some interest at Traction for throwing a hackathon so Zac gave me 4 tips for running a successful Hackathon...

First, what is a Hackathon? You get a bunch of developers in a room and give them a task. For example, here's a specific API—whoever builds the coolest innovation on top of it in the next 24 or 48 hours wins. Brands love it (for example Nike is doing one right now at SXSW) because they get people innovating on top of their APIs on their behalf. It's also a good recruiting tool, especially for startups.

1. Get the basics right. You need a killer venue (most important), food, sponsors and prizes.

2. You've gotta have focus. "If you don't have focus, you have a clusterf*ck."

3. Have an impartial judge. As Zac so eloquently put it if you don't have a clearly impartial judge, engineers are inclined to think "unless I circle jerk this guy's API, I'm not gonna win a prize." Clearly wouldn't want them to think that.

4. Get people in teams early. You want them to feel committed to one another so they come back the second day. Otherwise, you lose 90% of your developers by the end.

5. Promote it via Hacker News (in the Bay Area), Eventbrite and to a lesser extent MeetUp.com.

One more interesting observation Zac had was that Bay Area hackathons had a different flavor because of our focus on startups. Where other hackathons value quality of code, Bay Area hackathons bring out the product-focused developers. People care less about quality, more about viability. 

Food for thought.


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