Simple Advice for First Time Hackers

This is a repost from our old blog. Originally written by Allison Alder.

So it's your first time going to a hackathon. You're scared and horribly stressed at the thought of staying up late to hack all weekend. What are you going to build? Who are you going to hack with? Are you going to embarrass yourself? Are you going to explode from caffeine overload? Don't worry. Here are a couple of tips just in case you're nervous.

1. Don’t Forget Your Computer

I know this seems silly, but double check you have your laptop with you. Sometimes organizers have machines you can borrow, but all and all, not having your computer will probably lead to great sadness.

2. Bring Your Power

This can mean many things. Be a powerful networker. Think of powerful ideas. Write powerful code. But most of all, bring your power cords. Other hackers will let you borrow if you’ve done goofed, but generally dead devices lead to dead souls.

3. Keep Yourself Clean

While clean code will make your teammates happy, a clean you will make them even happier. Bring your deodorant, toothbrush, facecloth and other smell fighting essentials. You’re sharing a space with friends. If you want to stay friends remember that deodorant is your best friend. If you don’t have any, firstly WHY, secondly, go fix yourself. HackBeanpot and all reasonable humans also recommend that, for any hackathon over 24hrs, hackers should LEAVE and SHOWER. Trust me, those two extra hours of hacking are not worth smelling like death.

4. Don’t Die

Organizers provide food, water, shelter, and other such human needs. Take advantage of the free stuff. Eat the meals, don’t pass out from dehydration. These should be no-brainers for the average homo sapien, but I put these here because many people are convinced they’re aliens who don’t need these things. You need these things. Another big one is sleep. Do it. 4 hours minimum for a hackathon longer than a day. Brain damage is not good. Speaking of brain damage, caffeine is a very tempting substance. Consume in moderation. Do not chug 3 energy drinks at the beginning of the hackathon. You should not be tired, and if you are go take a nap. Caffeine is for the little pick-me-ups, not for powering your entire existence. No organizer wants to end a hackathon with a hacker in a coma from too much caffeine.

5. Planning Is Nice, But Not Necessary

Coming to a hackathon with a team and an idea isn’t a bad idea, but don’t feel it’s required. You will learn just as much showing up with nothing as you will with 15 hours of pre-planning (Side note: please don’t plan for 15 hours).

6. Hack, Learn & Ask Questions

Don’t play it safe; that’s not what hackathons are for. Learn something new. If you’re an Android expert, try iOS. If you’re a designer, try hacking. If you're a baby, try anything, but first have your parent sign a waiver because I am not dealing with changing your diapers. You can learn something from everybody at a hackathon. This is what hackathons are for. The best way to learn is to ask questions. Ask mentors, hackers, organizers, anybody. They will be happy to help. Unless they are asleep. Leave the waking to the organizers. Sleeping hackers tend to bite. Mentors are especially good for questions, because they have literally nothing else to do. Look for mentors first.

7. Don’t Be A Serious Fishy

Hackathons are silly. Hackers are silly. Organizers are silly, fluffy, puppies who need hugs. Be a friendly polar bear. It’s more fun if you’re being fun.

8. Show Up

This one is the most important. It’s Friday, you’re tired, you don’t want to move. You get your butt off the couch and go. Everything will be good after that. You only have to show up.

AAAAAND that’s it! Tips for attending a hackathon achieved. You may find these overly simple. They are. Organizers work hard to try to make hackathons as easy for attendees as possible. These are the only things we can’t actually do for you. We can’t force feed you, or make you learn. We can shower you in a waterfall of Febreze, but I’m assuming that is less than desirable. I clearly didn't answer all questions ever here, but hopefully this helped calm your nerves.

Have Fun Hacking!