Hacker Sam Larsen-Disney gives some advice on how to fall in love with a hackathon

How to survive a hackathon

Believe it or not, the SICK Solution Hackathon 2023 is the 67th hackathon that Sam Larsen-Disney is attending! In addition to participating as a hacker, he has also been a guest speaker and has even written a book all about hackathons called "The Hackathon Survival Guide” - the guide that helps you through every hackathon to make the best of it!” Actually, he used to think they were pretty boring. Here you can read more about why he changed his mind, why he wrote his book (which offers great advice and great illustrations) and what makes hackathons so special to him.

Just a few years ago, Sam did not have a positive view of hackathons. He was under the impression they were nothing but a bunch of programmers hanging out in a basement for some time. Now he is a big fan, thanks to a friend who took him to his. He and his friend created an app with a music system that determined where someone was walking and played the appropriate music for that location. For example, if you were walking past Abbey Road, it would play Beatles songs. "The app was pretty clunky …it looked awful!" laughs Sam. They left the hackathon before it concluded but got lots of calls afterwards asking them to come back because people were excited about their idea. So, the friends tried again at another hackathon, developing another app called "Spidentitfy", which could identify a spider or snake bite based on its features. They ended up winning first prize… perhaps because the app also identified Donald Trump as a snake, Sam adds with a laugh. Thus began his interest in hackathons.

Why hackathons should be called ideathons

So far, Sam has won about a dozen hackathons - but he is not completely sure about the number. Winning is not his goal: "At first I thought hackathons were just a few days with antisocial people - but they are so much more than that. You meet so many great people and there is so much to experience.” He prefers to call them "ideathons", because in the end it is the idea that counts and needs to be presented and not just the hacking or programming itself. This is also one of the pieces of advice in his book: “Don't waste all your time on brainstorming and focus more on the presentation. In the end, the judges only see your presentation, not your previous work - never forget that!"

This brings him to another important piece of advice in his book: Take the opportunity to meet the amazing people at every hackathon. Not everyone there is a coding expert, but that doesn't matter. Look for people who can bring something to the table that you do not have because they can bring new perspectives to your idea. This might be a social media or marketing expert - they all will make more out of your idea.


Empowering hackathons

Today, one of Sam’s reasons for participating in hackathons as a real hacker is that they can empower you: "When you work in a company you are always limited - at a hackathon there is nothing in your way!" Sam and his teammate, Tessa Breen, are focusing on a project to semantically search for example all of SICK's products by using a chatbot. He is happy about the attention and friendly support from all the hack coaches here at the SICK Hackathon. What does he like most about this hackathon? "There is so much buzz and energy in the room, and there is also a perfect number of participants - not too many, not too few - and there is a lot of freedom," explains Sam. "The number of different challenges makes it especially interesting to listen to the pitches at the end - because you never know which challenge people have actually chosen for their project."

He brought his book to the hackathon and is already planning the subject of his next book: a survival guide for hackathon organisers. Writing is something he loves, as he found out while writing his survival guide, and he is even planning more: He wants to create a platform for hackathon participants that focuses on them and their needs - but the whole concept is still a secret until its upcoming launch. For now, he's just enjoying working on his new hacker project here at the SICK Solution Hackathon. If you are interested in checking out his book, we promise it is a good read!

apply now
scroll to top