More Advice for First Time Hackers

1. Create a GitHub account

GitHub is a way for teams to collaborate on code together. It also comes in handy because it has version control, just in case you need to restore or reference a previous version of your code. The following article is also helpful in getting familiar with how it works: https://guides.github.com/activities/hello-world/. You can access GitHub via a browser, a terminal, or a desktop client.

If your team ends up using GitHub and you are not familiar with using a terminal, the desktop client is a great way to get started. Here is the link to do so: https://desktop.github.com/.

If you want to get familiar with how to access it from the terminal, the following cheatsheet may be of use: https://education.github.com/git-cheat-sheet-education.pdf. Otherwise, just creating an account will get you ahead of the curve and ready to collaborate!

2. Bring a resume

It’s a good idea to bring a couple copies of your resume if you are looking for a position. Sponsors are potentially looking for interns, co-ops, and even full-time employees. Even if you are not set on looking for a position, it might be a good idea to have a copy just in case you hear about something you are interested in. You can also always grab business cards to contact employers in the future!

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Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself: Questions you should ask at a Hackathon

This is a repost from our old blog. Originally written by Milo Davis.

One of the first things you decide when you come to a hackathon is what you’re going to build. As someone who has had projects both succeed and fail at hackathons, I feel like I’ve gained some insights into what works and what doesn’t. Below are some questions to help you check yourself before you wreck yourself.

1. Am I delaying doing something because it’s going to be hard?

Save yourself from your future self. If you ever get to a part of the thing you’re building and think, “This seems pretty complicated. I’ll get to it later”, you are in the danger zone. Do it right away! Think about how smart you are now, now imagine yourself at least 40% more stupid. That’s you after not sleeping for the next 20-48 hours. Suck it up, get it done now.

2. Does someone here know about the tools I’m using?

Build something new, build something cool, but don’t use tools so obscure that you can’t find resources to help you. This applies to both obscure platforms and languages without well-documented libraries. Run from the words “can fail silently” and things that will be impossible to debug. Mentors are also a great resource, but they can’t help you if they’ve never heard of the language, platform, or hardware you’re working with. Pick something that, even if you don’t know it, is still known.

3. Do we have enough time to finish?

Take it from someone who has been ridiculed by his friends for the past year for messing up time estimation, do something you are sure you can finish. Your project will grow to fill the time allotted, so be reasonable.

4. Are there multiple levels of success here?

Pick something simple, but that’s easily extendible. Get an easy core working first, then add more to it. For example, if you’re building a game, try to build a single level and then add more levels or a multiplayer mode if you have time. Don’t start complicated: choose a project that has simple, attainable goals, that you can build on when and if you finish.

5. Did we just pick the first idea we thought up?

This one isn’t a hard rule, but you can never get better than your idea. If you choose a good idea and execute it poorly, you’ll probably fare better than a poor idea executed well. Also, it’s a lot easier to fix your implementation as time goes on than your idea at the beginning. So pick something you’re really happy with then start, not the other way around.

6. Does everyone know what we’re building?

It’s hard enough to build something when everyone agrees on what they’re building and pretty much impossible when people don’t. It may seem obvious, but do yourself a favor: get everyone on the same page before you get started. It’ll save you some grief down the road.

In conclusion, think through what you do before you start and know what you are capable of. I’ve failed or seen others fail because they didn’t think through the weekend when they started. Push the limits, push your limits, but know your limits and you’ll build something awesome.

Simple Advice for First Time Hackers

This is a repost from our old blog. Originally written by Allison Alder.

So it’s your first time going to a hackathon. You’re scared and horribly stressed at the thought of staying up late to hack all weekend. What are you going to build? Who are you going to hack with? Are you going to embarrass yourself? Are you going to explode from caffeine overload? Don’t worry. Here are a couple of tips just in case you’re nervous.

1. Don’t Forget Your Computer

I know this seems silly, but double check you have your laptop with you. Sometimes organizers have machines you can borrow, but all and all, not having your computer will probably lead to great sadness.

2. Bring Your Power

This can mean many things. Be a powerful networker. Think of powerful ideas. Write powerful code. But most of all, bring your power cords. Other hackers will let you borrow if you’ve done goofed, but generally dead devices lead to dead souls.

3. Keep Yourself Clean

While clean code will make your teammates happy, a clean you will make them even happier. Bring your deodorant, toothbrush, facecloth and other smell fighting essentials. You’re sharing a space with friends. If you want to stay friends, remember that deodorant is your best friend. If you don’t have any, firstly WHY, secondly, go fix yourself. HackBeanpot and all reasonable humans also recommend that, for any hackathon over 24hrs, hackers should LEAVE and SHOWER. Trust me, those two extra hours of hacking are not worth smelling like death.

4. Don’t Die

Organizers provide food, water, shelter, and other such human needs. Take advantage of the free stuff. Eat the meals, don’t pass out from dehydration. These should be no-brainers for the average homo sapien, but I put these here because many people are convinced they’re aliens who don’t need these things. You need these things. Another big one is sleep. Do it. 4 hours minimum for a hackathon longer than a day. Brain damage is not good. Speaking of brain damage, caffeine is a very tempting substance. Consume in moderation. Do not chug 3 energy drinks at the beginning of the hackathon. You should not be tired, and if you are go take a nap. Caffeine is for the little pick-me-ups, not for powering your entire existence. No organizer wants to end a hackathon with a hacker in a coma from too much caffeine.

5. Planning Is Nice, But Not Necessary

Coming to a hackathon with a team and an idea isn’t a bad idea, but don’t feel it’s required. You will learn just as much showing up with nothing as you will with 15 hours of pre-planning (Side note: please don’t plan for 15 hours).

6. Hack, Learn & Ask Questions

Don’t play it safe; that’s not what hackathons are for. Learn something new. If you’re an Android expert, try iOS. If you’re a designer, try hacking. If you’re a baby, try anything, but first have your parent sign a waiver because I am not dealing with changing your diapers. You can learn something from everybody at a hackathon. This is what hackathons are for. The best way to learn is to ask questions. Ask mentors, hackers, organizers, anybody. They will be happy to help. Unless they are asleep. Leave the waking to the organizers. Sleeping hackers tend to bite. Mentors are especially good for questions, because they have literally nothing else to do. Look for mentors first.

7. Dont Be A Serious Fishy

Hackathons are silly. Hackers are silly. Organizers are silly, fluffy, puppies who need hugs. Be a friendly polar bear. It’s more fun if you’re being fun.

8. Show Up

This one is the most important. It’s Friday, you’re tired, you don’t want to move. You get your butt off the couch and go. Everything will be good after that. You only have to show up.

AAAAAND that’s it! Tips for attending a hackathon achieved. You may find these overly simple. They are. Organizers work hard to try to make hackathons as easy for attendees as possible. These are the only things we can’t actually do for you. We can’t force feed you, or make you learn. We can shower you in a waterfall of Febreze, but I’m assuming that is less than desirable. I clearly didn’t answer all questions ever here, but hopefully this helped calm your nerves.

Have Fun Hacking!