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‘How to hack a hackathon’ by a 42-year-old guy

by October 27, 2016 General
It's never too late to learn from a hackathon. PHOTO: REUTERS

It’s never too late to learn from a hackathon. PHOTO: REUTERS

At 42 years old, I joined a travel tech hackathon for the first time—Sabre Destination Hackathon here in Singapore. Installing Eclipse and reading API documents brought back a lot of memories when I started my career 15 years ago as a Java developer.

In the end, I won a small prize by developing the Sabre Red App Widget. The new widget shows relevant credit card offers when shopping for flights and hotels. As a first time Red App developer, I was really surprised that a concept demo could win the support of the audience and judges.

Three-day event: Hackathon draws crowds

Originally, I registered hoping to find developers to create a VOIP app using Twilio. However, as I listened to the Red App presentations, I found the Red Workspace a uniquely positioned platform.

With coaching from two awesome Sabre development leads—Alexandre Meneghello and Julian Macagno—and hours reading the SDK doc, I managed to create my first Red App Widget at last.

The process of brainstorming, implementing, debugging, and seeing it work within 24 hours was the greatest reward. Of course, the judges comments were an added bonus.

Here are a few things I took note of in those two days:

Be there early and talk to people

The people you meet at hackathons participate for many reasons. You will likely bump into students, freelancers, and even industry veterans trying to learn code. With room so diverse, hackathons become an excellent opportunity to meet new people besides coders.

Moreover, talk to the organizing team. Know their business, challenges, competitions, and product roadmaps. Most hackathons have a commercial goal—be it launching new products/platforms, building ecosystems, or just brand awareness.

The organizers will definitely be more than happy to share their views. Their sales, marketing, technical, and even finance teams may be there so there is no better place to learn.

Join a chat room

Nowadays, there is a chat room for every developing project—emails are no good for real-time team communications anymore. Expedia’s development manager, Poi Hierro, created a HipChat room for people to ask questions on Expedia APIs.

I joined and discovered a lot of interesting things. Reading their questions and comments helped me to understand different challenges facing mobile apps and web apps alike.

A good chef cooks with what is given to them

Unless you have a workable product and a plan to showcase it, I suggest keeping your mind open and explore possibilities. 24 hours is very little time to build a full feature app, and your brilliant idea may be totally trashed in the long run.

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Let people share their opinions, identify the real problems, and co-create a solution. It is far more friendly and collaborative.

Writing this piece helped me to recognize that a hackathon is very much like a sport—people and teams compete and achieve a certain goal within a defined time. Just like any sport, there are amateurs, professionals, and observers.

The younger and more energetic ones will definitely enjoy the party, but even older, non-coders will still find it an excellent opportunity to collaborate with people with different skills, cultures, and ages.

This article originally appeared on Tech in Asia.