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Hack - Hackathon Tips

Posted by Michal Janousek on Mon, Jan 16, 2017

Hi there from LoansWithNoCreditCheck!

Life here at LoansWithNoCreditCheck is not only about project related work but also doing outside of those projects more of what we love - TO CODE
So if you are interested in reading a mildly philosophical and technical blog about our experience with Hackathons and some related tips then please read on. We hope you enjoy reading.

As you can imagine most of the people here at LoansWithNoCreditCheck are very passionate about programming and so if we can try something new, have fun and maybe even win something that's definitely time well spent. We have participated in both local public and private company Hackathons, and have been regular participants of Hack for the past 3 years. 

Going for a win or just having fun?

Hackathons have two sides. On one hand there is an opportunity for software developers to present their skills - how quickly they are able build proof of concepts applications, the knowledge of the current web, mobile platforms and programing languages trends, presentation and video editing skills :-). Additionally it is solely up to the teams which technologies and challenges they pick and which problem they want to solve. Such choices are usually slightly more restricted in our daily jobs and most of you are surely in agreement with me. So that's the side where the main fun is as you can implement something completely ridilicous simply for the joy of doing so. You can even try to learn something new and use some funky technologies which you always wanted - play with Arduinos and some hardware. So even if you don't win it's not a loss.

On the other hand the hackhatons represents a good opportunity to pitch your business plan or an idea and get some real business/technical support and potentialy even some investments. The prizes itself are good motivation for putting a little bit more effort into plannig a strategy and spending some time for picking the right idea. So going for win is actually treating the whole event as a proper competition / project. The investment of the time should be rewarded by success and prize so the fun part goes away and the members of the team put themselves under pressure. It's even worse then in real world as even if you deliver you are not guaranteed that you will win. So be prepared for dissapointment.

Hack

This competition as stated on the Hack web page:

is a 24-hour coding competition. Teams of up to four turn up with an idea and just 24 hours later present a working product!

Located at the , Liverpool Road, as part of the .

Our Hacks

 

2014 - Good Will

The main goal for this hack was to win a prize with ample time spent in planning what we should build. We even ran the ideas through our company and asked our colleagues to vote. In the end we achieved only reasonable ideas since we were trying to focus on as many challenges as possible in order to increase our chances of winning. The main theme of the application was to help the elderly in the local area. They could register themselves using SMS and ask for help (shopping and lifts etc). The good samaritans who wanted to help would need to install the mobile phone application from which it would provide the help requests on a map.

The Tech Stack
  • Mobile Application - Ionic / AngularJS
  • REST Middleware with integration and DB - Spray / MongoDB / Heroku
  • SMS Interface for the elderly  - Clockwork API

With this have we have covered the main challenge of best in the show, company challenge, social / raising money challenge, Clockwork SMS API and possibly a couple of more which I can't recall right now. 

Video

The length of this video is approx. 1 minute without sound and was created within the last 30 minutes of the Hackathon. There are sessions available for "How to make your video" as part of the Hackathon programme although generally the emphasis is on coding and there is often little time to spare!


Code

Sorry - This is currently now available as part of private github repo.

2015 - Guide Dog

This year, having been a little disappointed with the outcome of the previous year, we decided that we were going to have fun and to do something simple which could be finished quickly. Our focus was on presentation and we also spent some time playing games provided at the venue and networking with other people. We decided not to stay awake the whole night as we almost did the previous year.

The idea was simple and this time we have focused on the Clockwork SMS API Challenge - "the most ridiculous use of their SMS API", by the way we were beaten by sending files over SMS :-). Our idea was to integrate the Google Maps navigation API through the SMS API. So simple state machine to which you need to provide the origin and destination and then you get back a set of SMS instructions which guide to the right location.

Tech Stack
  • REST Middleware with integration and DB - Spray / MongoDB / Heroku
  • Simple HTML withd descriptions and howto page with description of the project
  • SMS Interface for the elderly  - Clockwork API
CODE

https://github.com/teroxik/guidedog 

Video

We had the the whole second day for the preparation of the video and so this was on an improvement over the previous Hackathon. Unfortunatelly it was deleted from youtube and I was not able to locate backup copy.

2016 - BidChamp

To win the prize was our goal this time, but we didn't quite hit the mark. We carefully waited for the list of challenges and considered what we wanted to do. We had almost decided that we would create an Amazon Echo application for the Coop challenge - for connecting lonely people but just before the event we had a change of heart.

So eventually we were competing in 2 challenges - "How to make people spent money in an unreasonable way" and one for Cancer Research UK, a support app for raising money / making the donations. This time the idea was a bit more complicated and was basically a lottery application with some twists. You could place bids on prizes - such as cars, macbooks or a bikes. Those bids gave you a guaranteed probability of winning after enough bids had been made to cover the price of the prize :-) You couldn't bid more then half of the price of the item and if people bid over the actual price and additional item is added. The bidding was also time limited. 

Tech Stack
  • Play with Scala, Heroku
  • Reactive fronted - Knockout.js, Material Design Lite, JQuery

No persistent storage and user accounts provided through Github OAuth integration. Reactiveness of the application provided by the use of the Web Sockets.

Code

https://github.com/jkpl/bidchamp

Video

This year we did not spend as much time focused on the video (as we did last year). However, we think this is a pretty cool!


Winning Tips

1. The Idea Is The King!

As Software Engineers we have plenty of ideas but we usually focus on the technical side of the problem as that's what we generally do in our daily roles. From our own experience it is better to focus on only one challenge. It is also better received by the judges as you will be competing only in their challenge and you should get better results as you don't try to mesh too many ideas in order to meet different goals. Try to think of something innovative even if it doesn't make much sense since originality is key. The idea itself usually wins the whole Hackathon since the execution of the idea is less important that you may think.

2. The Design Is The Queen!

Everybody likes attractive presentation and so if your hack contains a graphic user interface you really need to give it some love and please the eye of the judges. Today there are so many CSS / JS frameworks which provide easy usable components and layouts which you can use.  Try to create a simple logo for the application since this is also well received.

3. Presentation / Video

At the event itself there are plenty of competitors and often the judges have insufficent time to play with all of the applications. Once you have working proof of concept then focus on the presentation and the video itself. You need to pitch your idea and it's possible to present this well although it's not as easy to create as you may think. Whilst it is only a 1 minute video you should have some software for video processing ready and by doing so you can save precious time instead of spending it on choosing / installing / learning video editor during the event.

4. Technical Solution 

One of the main mistakes is that for such competitions the software engineers try to create the idea and think that they are building the real thing. The following tips are mainly useful for pure software hacks obviously and less so for hardware related hacks:

  • Use libraries and off the shelf solutions
  • Think of existing services and how you can leverage in your idea
  • Don't bother with persistence
  • Don't bother with code quality
  • Don't bother with deployment - running locally is as good as on server for Hackathons
  • Use technologies which you are familiar with, don't try to use Hackathon as an occasion to learn something new

Last year we made it to the finals for the Cancer Research UK competition. So we are definitely improving over time. So the goal for 2017 is set and possibly we will introduce more teams since the competition will be bigger as well.

Don't forget that Hackathons are mainly for fun and meeting fellow programmers from your local area!

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