How to Organize and Run Your Own Hackathon

Have you ever participated in a hackathon? According to programmers I’ve spoken with, it’s an amazing learning experience.

Next question: Have you ever produced a hackathon? Not many have, so I asked Peter Morano, a hackathon expert, how to actually do it. Morano has produced 12, including the SocialDevCamp 2011 Hackathon (which, I might add, was sponsored by Dice).

Morano walked me through a checklist of the things you need to gather and think about when you’re producing a hackathon. Here’s your “how to” guide.

Checklist for Producing Your Own Hackathon

  • Space – You need a location with power and good wi-fi for developers to work uninterrupted for the duration of the hackathon.
  • Prizes – You’ll need to collect money and reach out to sponsors to give you prizes for the winners.
  • Topic – You need something to build the hackathon around. While you don’t want to be too strict with the rules, you need something for participants to focus on. It could be a really loose topic such as “create a social app” which was the case of the SocialDevCamp event.
  • Time limit – This forces the developers to distill their idea down to its simplest form. Morano has worked on hackathons lasting from eight to 36 hours. In the longer ones you’ll get younger independent developers who can sacrifice a weekend to participate.
  • Sponsors – Sponsors want to connect with developers. If you can demonstrate that you can bring a lot of developers into one space, companies that want to reach out will be eager to sponsor. Morano tries to incorporate the company’s API or toolset into their sponsorship.
  • Developers – Developers at large corporations don’t usually look for these events. You need to reach out to small meet-up groups. Once you connect with them, the word spreads.
  • Presentation – Limit presentations to five minutes. Block a lot of time. Give developers information on how to configure their laptop for the projection screen when it comes time to present.
  • Judges – Get distinguished people in the development community. Developers love to present in front of these people.

Morano keeps producing hackathons because he just loves creating that physical and mental space, and connecting with the community. When he was looking for something like this in Chicago he realized that nobody was doing it, so he just stepped in and took on the role. He’s met great people along the way, and sees them event after event. It’s become a part of his social scene.

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