Surviving a hackathon as a sponsor without becoming a complete zombie is no joke. To start, you’ll have plenty of practical, technical concerns that have to be sorted (How do you get people to try your product? Will the hackers be familiar with your application’s language?). But once you’ve got the technical issues taken care of, you’ll likely have nearly as many questions about how to keep your team as sane and functional as possible––despite running on limited sleep, consuming excessive caffeine, and likely being completely out of their comfort zones.
I’ve boiled down these concerns to what I call the “human factor” in hackathons. They become particularly glaring when you’re approaching hackathons before you’ve got a Developer Relations team in place, which is the current case at Cockroach Labs. Some of the “human factor” questions I had included:
When I sought answers to these questions, I discovered that most of the resources – both online and offline – are tailored for participants (Bring a sleeping bag! Drink all the red bulls!). I thought it would be useful, therefore, to share my thoughts on how to survive hackathons as a sponsor.
The importance of planning sleep for your team cannot be understated. Common schedules for university hackathons are Friday evening to Sunday afternoon – that’s 40+ hours straight that you’re expected to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
These days, hackathons are practically synonymous with “all you can eat.” The hidden caveat is “all you can eat… if you’re a college kid.” Foods like pizza, french fries, cotton candy, and fried dough are widely available – delicious treats, but not adult food. Especially when you’ve got people running on less sleep than normal, eating healthful, normal food is a must.
Hackathons are awkward, especially for sponsors and their team of developers intending to engage with the participants. You’re talking to strangers; you’re pitching your product; you’re soliciting resumes. Developing a shared sense of purpose and proper preparation will help your team muscle their way through the whole event.
Surviving a hackathon as a sponsor without your whole team of volunteers zombifying – and by that I do mean eating each other and/or the participants – is something you can prepare for. Getting sleep, eating right, and setting goals are all tangible steps that will make your sponsorship successful and your team willing to volunteer for a hackathon again.
I know this list isn’t exhaustive, so if you’ve got other tips, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to share them on twitter @cockroachdb.