Tips for participating in a Hackathon

by Modis on January 18, 2013

Ever wonder what it takes to participate in a Hackathon? Modis was able to snag a few minutes with the leading student behind the entire PennApps Hackathon, Pulak Mittal, to discuss this weekend’s events. We asked Pulak what he thought may be the top tips for participating in PennApps, and he was more than happy to provide us with some excellent insight.

Top 5 tips for participating in PennApps: 

1. Make it useful. When you’re pitching potential ideas to others, ask them if they could actually see themselves using it. Many hacks initially seem “cool” in some way but wouldn’t actually be useful. Take note, competitors: “Usefulness” is one of the four criteria in PennApps judging!

2. Prioritize features. It’s really easy to write a low-priority feature because it’s cooler, but that just delays getting the app to a basic state of functionality. Many features may not even end up in the app; it’s important to think about what really matters to make the app work most effectively.

3. Be realistic. By creating a fairly reachable goal with a set of solid features, you are able to spend more time on testing and making sure everything is working effectively. A well-tested app is much better than an app with a set of features that has been thrown together haphazardly at the end of the allotted time.

4. Limit your platforms. You would think that illustrating the fact that you have the same app working on multiple platforms would score well, but that does not impress judges as much as an app that is more functional and polished on a single platform.

5. Practice the demo! This component of the competition can be just as important as the app itself. It’s imperative to know what elements of the app you will be presenting, and what pieces you’ll be skipping over. If you really want to be proactive, then try practicing what you’ll say in front of a mentor.

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