Hacking Hackathons

Blog Post created by dourada on Oct 17, 2016

We always enjoy the buildup to the Money2020 hackathon.  As you prepare to travel to Las Vegas this next week we thought we would share some advice on how to have your best experience ever.  Please feel free to add your comments/feedback!  See you soon and happy hacking!


What to do before the hackathon


  1. Have goals established before you arrive at the hackathon.  Your goals might trump any of the info we provide below so consider what you want out of the hackathon and then go get it!  If your goal is to meet new people at the event maybe you do not care so much about brainstorming ideas before arrival or forming a team prior to arrival.  But if you intend on going for the win try to prepare as much as you can before you arrive.  Maybe your top priority is winning, a second priority is learning a new skill, and a third priority is meeting new people.  Some of those goals might conflict but at least it gives you a base level of understanding and also helps you to evaluate yourself/your team after the event.
  2. Do not forget to have fun!
  3. Start brainstorming ideas early.  Specifically for the Money2020 hackathon read through the challenge statements a few times and get your team on the same page before you arrive.
  4. Form a team before you arrive.  If you need more people you can certainly find them when you arrive but if you already have a team and a plan in place you can get right to working on your product.
  5. Narrow down your list of "tools".  What programming language are you going to use?  Again these tools depend on your goals.  If you are trying to win then keeping with the tools that make you efficient is likely the best strategy but if your goal is to branch out and learn something new then obviously have that programming language or API in mind prior to arrival.
  6. What are your sleeping arrangements?  Will you sleep at all?  Or attempt to arrive Saturday morning, stay up all day/night, and leave Sunday evening?
  7. What are your fueling arrangements?  What are you going to eat and drink?  When?
  8. Have a plan for getting some fresh air and see something else in Las Vegas other than the hackathon ballroom.
  9. Do you have your travel scheduled and know where/when you are going?
  10. Specifically for the Vantiv challenge have you taken a look at the available APIs/SDKs?
  11. Do you know which hardware you would like to select?  Do you have a backup?
  12. Have you created your one minute video and posted to Vantiv O.N.E.?
  13. Read some of the blogs of the sponsoring companies you have selected, get to know what they do and who they are, it might come in handy.
  14. Seriously think about how you can change the world, it's possible, just get yourself into the right mindset.


What to do during the hackathon


  1. Talk to the sponsoring company reps, 24 hours is a great time get to know 3-4 of the teams.  Introduce yourself, tell them where you are sitting, and ask for help if/when you need it.
  2. Attend 1 or 2 sponsor breakout sessions.  This is a great time for a deep dive into the challenge you have selected, API specifics, and to ask the sponsors what they will be looking for during the two minute pitch.
  3. Integrate to at least 2 APIs and then make a decision later which one you will pitch.
  4. Start your presentation as early as possible.  Do not use a power point and try to memorize your 2 minute presentation.  Remember you only have 2 minutes to pitch so use it wisely.  Practice your pitch at least 10 times before giving it to the sponsoring company.  Leverage the sponsors for feedback early on, not just the sponsor you will be pitching to but all of them.  They are all there to help.
  5. Get some sleep at some point, always better to be a little on the rested side instead of a little on the fried side.
  6. Change clothes/brush teeth, makes you feel better and you'll pitch better.
  7. Do you have a plan for wifi backup/failure?
  8. Make sure to get your hardware if you are using it for the Vantiv challenge at 10am on Saturday.
  9. Have a backup to pitching with hardware.  Hardware is great but it's also difficult.  If your hardware breaks for whatever reason be able to pitch with a software only solution.
  10. Understand your solution does not need to be perfect.  Unless your biggest feature is database access skip all of the plumbing and hardcode data.  That said you still do need to pitch with a working prototype so you must have some code developed.
  11. Keep the goals of the hackathon in mind, keep reading how the judges are going to evaluate you (find that criteria on the Money2020 hackathon site).  The judges will obviously know when something is cool but they are also given guidelines on how to evaluate you.  Speak to those points.
  12. Walk around, get some fresh air, you are in Las Vegas.  At least checkout one fun thing while you're there.  You do not have to completely forget about the hackathon but take a walk and do some brainstorming while you are walking around.


What to do after the hackathon


  1. Write a blog post about your experience and share it via your sponsors social media channels.  It's good for you, it's good for them, it's good for the entire hackathon ecosystem.
  2. Connect with all of the people you met and form your network of fintech wizards.
  3. Claim your prize if you won and pay attention to the details.
  4. Evaluate how you/your team performed based on your goals established before the event.
  5. Give feedback to the organizers and challenge sponsors.  We love improvement and the best way to get that improvement is by direct feedback from the participants.  It also helps us demonstrate business value.  If you discover a bug in an API or can show how an API will be more efficient that is golden feedback!
  6. Keep changing the world with passion and fun!