3 Ways to Win a Hackathon

Whatever is your purpose of attending a hackathon.

You should keep in mind that winning is everything.

So…

Here are the 3 Ways to Win a Hackathon

1. Find an awesome team member

This is not so easy and it will require you to make a lot of collisions.

Which means that.

You have to meet people, connect with them, meet some other people, talk with the previous people, talk with more people.

You might need to collide with the same people a few times to see if they are a match.

Teams usually get formed on the first “day” of the hackathon. Which usually is just an evening, when they initiate the event.

This might not be enough time. Don’t rush into finding just anybody.

You should spend some time the following day.

What is a match?

It depends.

What are you looking for?

  • A developer?
  • A designer?
  • A business person. One of those that know how to talk to the humans?

Then review the profile of the person that you want and search for that person.

2. Get found by an awesome team member

You are not looking for.

But.

You want to be found.

You need to pitch an idea. Any idea. But just don’t pitch the idea.

Sell your skills first.

Start like “My name is Bob and I am a software developer with 5 years experience in all sort of crazy experiments including 10 iPhone apps….”

Pretend this is your chance to look for a job.

This is your opportunity to sell your skills in front of a crowd.

You don’t have to be just a developer, you can also be a designer, an entrepreneur or one of those with people skills.

Your first priority is to sell your skills.

Your second priority is to sell your idea.

If you want a good idea. Don’t go with the crazy idea that nobody cares about. You could do 3 things:

  • Pitch an idea that is of interest for a hackathon judge
  • Pitch an idea that is on topic with the hackathon theme
  • Pitch an idea that matches the crowd.

This last one can be tricky. You need to evaluate who your crowd is. Are they a lot of college students? A drinking game/app idea could be a match.

Mixed crowd? An idea that solves a general problem in your city. The “problem” has to be a real local pain. Not just a minor problem.

Now that you pitched your skills.

It’s time to wait for people to come to you.

You might need to put on your name tag your profile, rather than just your name.

You should also walk the room and sell your skills to your best match.

3. Do a lot of business development and a fake prototype

I have seen so many people that spend all day all night coding their app.

This is not healthy.

You would say that hackathons abuse people.

You are mistaken.

You abuse yourself.

Why spend all night coding an app.

When in reality nobody wants your app.

Do exactly this:

Do Business Development

If you choose an idea. This cannot just be “The Idea”.

You should iterate really fast to modify the idea or just change it completely.

Iterating requires you to do business development, and that means talking to the humans.

If you are not used to talking to them, you must find a team member that can.

Someone that works in sales or marketing should be a good match.

They should be able to do exactly this:

  • Pitch the idea
  • Present the problems
  • Present the solutions
  • Get feedback
  • Iterate

All this could be done on paper. You don’t have to design or code anything.

When presenting a solution. Draw your “app” on a piece of paper. Or many pieces of paper, showing all the user experience.

Get feedback and iterate.

Change the drawings. Get feedback again. And so on.

Getting feedback from who?

You need to do customer development.

Identify all the users of your solution.

Categorize these users.

Then find these users which could be:

  • Other hackathon participants
  • Organizers
  • Mentors
  • Judges
  • Sponsors

How do you know if these people are “users”.

Simple.

Ask them.

The questions should be specific as to identify niche categories.

For example, if your solution has to do with lawyers, maybe just the general category of “lawyers” is not enough.

Dig in to find the subcategory “Immigration lawyers that do Work Visas for Hispanics”.

A segmented category such as this would be able to provide the best feedback.

“I cannot find this subcategory in my crowd”

You should be asking this all the time:

  • Are you a (user)?
  • Do you know somebody that is a (user)?

Then ask them if that other person is at the event or if they can setup a phone call with that (user) right there and then.

Do not do this:

  • Go on twitter and ask for feedback
  • Prepare a survey and send it on twitter
  • Prepare any survey

This is a waste of time.

Now you must.

Build a Fake Prototype

Aka

A mockup.

A drawing of an app on a piece of paper will not help you win a hackathon.

But you can make it prettier.

You don’t need Photoshop or Illustrator.

There are tools like Proto.io

You can learn how to use it in an hour.

It will take you about 2 hrs to build your paper prototype there.

Google “mockup tools”.

There is Balsamiq, which is kind of ugly, but good enough to draw it on the computer instead that on paper.

Invision has interactive mockups.

There is one (I forgot the name) that you can even download on your phone and it looks just like an app.

Just build a fake protoype and get more feedback from your segmented users.

You Won!

Uh?

You didn’t win?

Yes you won!!!

  1. You found a team member for your next project/startup/company
  2. You got a job!!!
  3. You learned how to do business development and design prototypes.

You won 3 times!

Do Not Feed the Online Trolls

I used to have a music gear forum. The biggest effort and pain was to shut down bullies and trolls.

I had my share of bullying in high school. I still remember what it feels to be punched.

Most of the problems of high schools in the US and many other countries are because of bullies.

Now these bullies like to be online.

Aka.

Trolls.

The 3 Behaviors of a Troll

1. Trolls Like To Start Fights

Trolls ask questions like:

  • Rails (or Ruby) doesn’t scale
  • The startup scence in (your city) sucks
  • There is no talent in (your city)

If you know the answer for a question then why ask?

Sometimes people ask questions without doing some research:

  • Looking for a technical cofounder

You will get bullied.

I see a lot of this naive behavior in Stackoverflow and Quora. People ask questions that have been asked hundreds of times.

I had the same at the music gear forum:

  • What’s the best amp for a gig.

Very broad question. It has been asked a hundred times. Trolls will come out to attack.

  • What’s better Ampeg or Marshall?

Also a broad question. The attack of the trolls.

Trolls like to ask questions for the sake of starting a fight.

Then they disappear. They don’t reply to comments.

2. Trolls Like To Be Anonymous

Trolls can be anybody.

It can be you.

It can be a programmer, a lawyer, a student.

It can be a wantrepreneur, an entrepreneur or a startup founder.

If you want to be in a fight and you don’t want anybody to know. Then you become.

Anonymous.

This doesn’t mean you can use your freedom of speech for bullying.

I write articles and sometimes people comment.

Some comments are decent conversation.

Some are bullying.

I could reply.

But this would encourage the trolls to keep on bullying.

They live off this.

They cannot wait for the next article to bully and troll.

3. Trolls Are Feisty

If you reply to a bully’s comment.

They come back again, and again, and again.

They won’t stop.

They will come back stronger.

They will curse you.

They will attack you.

Do not give fuel to the trolls.

Do not reply to a troll.

If you see a comment from a troll. You can delete, block it, spam it or just leave it there.

Trolls will attempt to anger you.

They will upvote their comment with other anonymous accounts, so they show up on top.

You must defuse this.

Online trolls can be as bad or worse than offline bullies

I still remember a bully in high school that punched me in the stomach.

Now he is an anti-bully advocate.

If you are a troll you can change too!

Do Not Hire Me as a Ruby on Rails Developer

Do not hire me as a Ruby developer.

Or as a Rails developer.

Or as a Rails developer with Python skills.

I get a lot of Linkedin emails.

Please stop them.

I dislike keyword recruiters.

Spam.

The truth is.

I am not a full time developer.

I have said this many times.

I don’t write code all day.

I don’t write tests.

I don’t refactor.

I don’t spend hours fixing CSS code.

I don’t spend all morning reviewing pull requests.

I don’t spend all afternoon writing scripts for Nginx.

Or patching a server.

Or writing algorithms for the business models.

Or messing with databases.

Or more refactoring.

Or complaining about agile and the never ending un TDD’ed world.

Or about code with no tests.

I don’t do that.

Instead I.

Spend my free time.

Reading the K&R ANSI C book.

Writing for loops of binary examples.

Thinking about how the traffic lights operate in a city and wondering about an algorithm using binary numbers to improve the flow of traffic.

Or deep researching chmod.

Or improving my Vim skills.

Or improving my typing.

I also spend my limited.

And very limited free time on.

Learning how to learn.

And.

Learning how to teach.

Just a few and not a lot of people spend time doing this.

They face the firehose of information.

And they drown.

The worst is that.

They don’t know they are drowning.

They take shortcuts.

They copy/paste.

I despise this behavior.

I enjoy my limited as a coder.

I find it relaxing.

Some people find other ways.

Such as.

Watching TV or

Doing sports or

Playing ping pong or

Doing joga.

No I don’t.

I relax, on my free time and the most relaxing and joyful thing to do is.

Reading how to setup an Nginx server with Phusion Passenger.

I didn’t go to CS school.

Although I did engineering.

Endless nights building and testing circuits.

This was pre-arduino.

When circuits was not the “cool” thing to do.

I don’t do circuits anymore.

Unless I want to build an envelope filter to play funk on my bass.

So.

Again.

Do not hire me as a ruby on rails developer.

Cause I am a hobbyst.

And I like that.

3 More Reasons Why They Unfollow You on Twitter

Here are 3 reasons why they unfollow you on twitter. That post is almost a year old.

A lot of lessons learned.

And here are

3 more reasons why they unfollow you on twitter

1. You use Twitter as your personal El Cheapo Psychiatrist

You use Twitter to vent…

Your frustrations.

Your hates.

Your loves.

Your love of hates.

Your hate of loves.

Your work.

Your daily.

Your routine.

Your school.

Your folks.

Your family.

Your partner.

Your favorite (fill in the lines)

Your dislike of (fill in the lines)

Groupon stock.

The Bitcoin rollercoaster market value.

Marissa Mayer.

The latest acquihire, acquisition, inquisition.

You vent about everything.

People will unfollow you.

2. They misunderstand your tweet

Today you tweet you hate the Miami Heat. They lost.

Tomorrow you tweet you love the Miami Heat. They win.

They unfollow you.

They didn’t like you hated the Miami Heat.

They didn’t like you talked about the Miami Heat/

They don’t like basketball.

They understood you like heat.

They understood you are heat.

They understood you hate meat.

They understood you hate Miami.

They like the opposite team. Whatever that is. I don’t follow basketball so I don’t have a clue.

They read you like the Mami Heat. They corrected you that it is Miami and not Mami. Although you wrote it correctly. They were wrong. They were reading from their phones, probably while driving.

They favorited your tweet. You didn’t like that. So you unfollow them. Changed your mind 5 minutes later. Followed them back. They unfollowed you. They didn’t notice that you followed them back. They don’t follow you back again.

They unfollow you because they are tired of hearing about the Miami Heat and their superstar. That tall dude. I forgot his name.

They unfollow you because you don’t have a clue about basketball. Like they are unfollowing me at this exact moment.

3. They Just Unfollow You

You had a few chats with them online.

They replied to your tweets.

They favorite some.

They replied to a few more.

You have never met these people offline.

But you thought you had a connection…get it? a connection.

One day they unfollow you.

You know this because you signed up for the unfollowme report.

You question yourself and twitter life.

Why?

What did I do?

Was I annoying?

When was I annoying? Which of the last (few) hundred tweets. Let me see. Scroll down, down, down more. I don’t know which one. Was it because I put a picture of my food? Because of a typo? Because it’s 80F here and 20F there and I made fun of that. They are on the 20F side? Was that it? No it wasn’t? It’s 70F there? Which tweet made it? Which?

You met them offline.

They seemed nice.

You connected.

You made a collision. (Brad Feld can you sponsor this line?)

You followed each other on twitter.

Virtual fist bumps with the explosion and the sound less effect. Kaboom. Although more like Kapoosh.

They RT.

They replied.

They favorited.

Then one day.

They unfollow you.

There is nothing you can do about it.

You could.

Say.

Hey, why did you unfollow me?

They might say.

Sorry. It was this automated software. Bla bla.

Don’t believe this.

Yet. They don’t follow back.

Even if they follow back.

Don’t care

They might say.

Nothing.

They don’t reply back.

Reply with this. And exactly this:

“Whatev”

The reality of Twitter

Take it with a grain of salt.

Which means.

Take something lightly.

Don’t make a big fuzz about it.

It’s not a life changer.

Cultivate your connections with collisions.

Aka.

Face to face interactions.

Brad Feld you owe me big time. Next time I use the word collisions in this context I will send you a bill

Music for Coding or Not

People ask me often what type of music I listen to while coding or computering.

Codingwithmusichorror

This reminded me of that article by codinghorror about music not to code by.

I am a music fan.

When coworking in Chicago I always wore DJ headphones.

Studio headphones

The top 10 albums I listened to while coding:

1. The Fragile by NIN

This album is awesome

2. Master of Puppets by Metallica

I know how to play all these songs on the bass

3. Bossanova by Pixies

If you don't like this you are insane

4. Jar of Flies by AIC

Nutshell inspired me to learn music

5. Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins

I test headphones by listening to Cherub Rock

6. One Life Stand by Hot Chip

100.times while looping in Chicago

7. Around the Fur by Deftones

50.times.myownsummer

8. Iowa by Slipknot

No code Left Behind

9. 8:30 by Weather Report

Took me 6 months to learn Slang

10. Far Beyond Driven by Pantera

I bought this just for the parental advisory

Not a typo.

You read correctly.

Listened to.

Listened to, because listening to this music while coding…

Is an efficiency wreck.

The moment you start humming a song.

You lose focus.

Your brain needs to be thinking about solving that problem.

And not thinking about the tune.

Or about singing.

The top 3 albums I listen to while coding

1. None

I put on my noise cancelling headphones.

And I listen to.

Nothing.

I googled nothing and I got a black screen

The noise cancelling works so well.

That I can hear my brain.

And nothing else.

2. Nature sounds

Like a river

Not the beach or it will put you to sleep

Sounds of the city.

Street noise.

3. Chopin

In particular these songs into a for loop

  • Waltz No 1. in D-Flat major
  • Preludes, Op 28 No 2 in A minor
  • Nocturne No 20 in C sharp minor

20.times do Chopin

Being a Spotify DJ

Means.

You put a song.

Work.

Then put another song.

Work.

This is an efficiency crazy train wreck.

Crazy train coding wreck

Don’t do that.