Five simple rules can help you to make your hackathon more successful

Five golden rules to win a hackathon

OK, we'll be honest right from the start: maybe we cannot give you the ultimate secret to winning a hackathon - but we can share some do's and don'ts from the hack coaches at the SICK Solution Hackathon. Not only are they experts in their field, they also have a lot of experience in supporting participants in this hackathon - and they have seen many mistakes and failures, but also many successes and winners. This is what makes their advice so valuable! Also, the five big challenges of SICK’s Hackathon - make it easy, make it visible, make it safe, make it green and make it move - can be an inspiration for your perfect path through the hackathon!

Tip 1: Don’t… lose your path

Yes, we know the situation: you are in the middle of this huge hackathon, and everything is great and amazing, full of modern technologies to use and great experts to talk to - a real wonderland for any techie. Of course, you should take advantage of these opportunities, but don't get lost in this wonderland. Bianka Engelmann (Environmental Product Compliance SICK) sums it up: "With endless possibilities, it is sometimes hard not to get bogged down in details and different ideas. But never forget: your time is limited! But some participants lose a lot of time trying everything without focusing on their goal.”

What to do instead: 
Enjoy this hackathon wonderland - but never forget why you're here. It could be your unique idea, or the specific problem you are solving, or a fascinating technology you want to use in your project - this is the main reason you are at this hackathon, so keep that in mind. Creating a roadmap through this wonderland can help you juggle all the different tasks, such as writing your pitch. Perhaps creating a schedule at the start, with time slots for all the important parts and time to enjoy the hackathon, will help you use your time to the fullest.
-> Make it easy - by creating an easy path through the hackathon wonderland. Plan some time for all the possibilities and keep this plan in mind - it will help you not to get lost!

Tip 2: Don’t… create the presentation in the last minute

Brainstorming, hacking, prototyping… there is a lot to do at a hackathon! But sometimes people overlook one of the crucial aspects of a hackathon: the presentation. “You don’t just need a perfect project with a perfect solution - you also need to present them as well as possible”, says Manuel Würzburger (Application Engineer at SICK). Sometimes an average idea suddenly becomes much more convincing by a good presentation - but unfortunately, the opposite is also possible: a bad presentation lets the best idea look bad.”

What to do instead:
Don't worry, there's nothing magical about a good presentation. The first piece of advice: Don't wait until the end but instead start as early as possible. Invest your hackathon time in it and put some real effort into it. Think about your idea and how it solves a problem - and maybe even try to tell it as a story. The easier the audience and the judges can follow your thoughts, the better they will understand what you are trying to do. One particular piece of advice comes from Dries Guth (Head of Co-Innovation at NTT Data): “Many people just present their solution - but they forget to talk about the problem. Focus on the problem first and then explain the benefits of your solution. This is not only crucial, but it also grabs the audience's attention". Another benefit to consider is by working thoroughly on your presentation, you may better understand your solution idea which can help you better focus on the project as a whole and identify any shortcomings that still needs work.

-> Make it visible, literally: at the end of the day, the judges will only see your presentation during the pitches and not all the work that went into it. Use photos, videos and anything else to make your idea (and your efforts) as visible as possible. Those few minutes are all you have, so make the most of them.


Tip 3: Don’t… expect that everything will be done for you

At the SICK Solution Hackathon, there are many technologies available to you, from software to hardware, from cloud solutions to artificial intelligence solutions and robotics. The partners here are happy to help you find the right way to support your idea - but you still must do your own homework. "Some participants lack some basic technical skills," explains hack coach Andre Stury (Software Developer & Data Engineer at Bosch Rexroth). "But you need to have some background knowledge in the areas you want to work in." If you have to start from scratch, you lose a lot of time.

What to do instead:
Prepare as much as you can, such as downloading the right software before the hackathon or improving the skills you will need for your work. "You have an idea and 48 hours to come up with a solution. Think about your skills and what you need to achieve your goal - and prepare as much as you can beforehand," says Matheus Bernat (Application Developer at SICK). Dominic Schabel (DevOps Engineer at Bosch) says, "Just look at the hackathon website, see what kind of technology is offered that might be good for your project, and then ask yourself what else you need - this will help you prepare in advance.”
-> Make it safe by saving time and effort: Prepare as much as possible and use that saved time saved for your project at the hackathon! Every hackathon requires a lot of spontaneity, so use your energy for those situations. Planning ahead can help - better to be safe (and as prepared as possible) than sorry.


Tip 4: Don’t… forget that collaboration is like multiplication

A hackathon is full of hackers…that goes without saying. But not all hackers are the same: some have excellent skills, others are just starting to learn. Some have a clear vision of an idea, others are just eager to be part of a new project. Often, hackathon participants tend to form teams with people who are like them or who they know already - and this can sometimes make their projects look a bit boring or leave out other perspectives because the contributors are all so similar.

What to do instead:
Diversity is more than just a buzzword. When you bring different people together, you not only add up their qualities, but you can often multiply them. Some talents are more hidden than others: Someone may not be good at writing code, but they might be funny or good at marketing or a great storyteller and can sell your pitch like no one else. Maybe someone else is shy or quiet and is easily overlooked, but is great at building a prototype. Look for people who add something to your own skills, as Sébastien Maerker (IT Consultant Cloud DevOps at Continum) and Florian Struck (DevOps Engineer at Continum) add: “In German we say ’Schau über den Tellerrand’, which means you should broaden your horizon and think outside the box. People are coming to this hackathon from all over the world, so learn from them.” Bringing in different and maybe even new people can make so much more of your project - at every stage!
-> Make it green - or should we say: make your hackathon work social and sustainable. Just look around: The people around you are often the best way to get more out of your project - and working in a team is a lot more fun! Just be open-minded and listen to what others have to say, and your project will become much more versatile.


Tip 5: Don’t… just focus on your own project

Yes, we told you to focus - but don't forget to look around. Talk to others, get to know them - and not just their projects. There is also so much to learn at a hackathon, as Nicolas Tribukait (Web Developer at SICK) points out: "Now I am a hack coach, but when I was a student at different hackathons, I learned so much just by talking to people and trying out different technologies. Two days at a hackathon gave me as much input as a whole semester of lectures at university - maybe even more!”

What to do instead:
New knowledge, new technologies, new people - a hackathon has it all. This is where you meet not just teammates, but real friends. Where you learn not just about technology, but about people from all over the world. Maybe your hack coach of today will be your colleague of tomorrow. Whatever you do, make your own hackathon experience as memorable as possible. "Try everything you find at the hackathon and make it an experience," suggests Roy Gollub (Integration Support Engineer, SICK). And don't forget to take a break from time to time and just enjoy where you are - at a hackathon!
-> Get (yourself) moving: Get out of your comfort zone and look around. Every hackathon strengthens your personal networks and increases your learning - so create not just a project, but an experience for yourself. And maybe in the end when you follow all these tips, you will also win the hackathon - or even the hearts of some people!

One last piece of advice: Don't just dream about your success - you must actually take part in a hackathon. The next SICK Solution Hackathon is just around the corner. You can already preregister here
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