ACTIVE Network API Developer Blog

7 steps to success: advice every hackathon attendee should hear

Now that registration is officially open for HACKTIVE, our upcoming hackathon event, time is of the essence. With only 24 hours to build your app, how you prepare can make or break your chance at the podium. If you plan to join us this September or are gearing up for another event, there are several measures you can take to maximize your chance at success once the clock starts ticking. Past hackathon champs offer up some of their winning tips:

  • Book early. Have you already registered for HACKTIVE? If so, you’re off to a good start. Despite the upsurge in hackathons happening around the globe, it’s not unusual for events to fill up soon after they are announced.
  • Find libraries in a language you’re comfortable with. “Sometimes API providers aggregate these on their developer site, but searching github usually does the trick too,” explains Microsoft technical evangelist, Stacey Mulcahy.
  • Carefully review the available data sets. Mulcahy also advises developers to “find obscure or interesting API that has lots of data – it will give you more options than an API that has limited endpoints and data.”
  • Make lists. “Have a list of interesting data sources, tools, and ideas before going into a hackathon,” suggests Dan Schultz, creator of the winning hack at the recent Knight-Mozilla Open News Hack Day event. “You can use these to brainstorm new ideas with a team, or just pick a single mission and run with it."
  • Mitigate against an unstable API that could possibly jeopardize your presentation. Winner of two hackathons, James Rutherford, uses his past failure as an example for why it’s important to plan for the worst. “If you see this is a risk, you have the time, and it suits the scope, then you could mock up some quick and dirty fake local stubs to mimic the API. It’s worth your while capturing some API responses during the event for appropriate endpoints so you can swiftly cludge this if pushed.”
  • Take into account how interoperable the API is. Rutherford also recommends to “take time out early on to take a close look at the responses from the APIs, to ensure they’re all usable. For example, there are a raft of ways to specify geolocations – you should ensure that the data formats match the other intended APIs and presentation layers (e.g. map visualisations), or at the least- that you can afford the time to convert between them.”
  • Know the access limitations. A final piece of advice from Rutherford cautions developers to be cognizant of the API request rates and any other types of restrictions they may have. “Some have daily limitations, which could hamper the completion of your project at a late stage- local mockups would be useful here too.”

Check out the full article on Programmable Web: Advice from Hackathon Winners: How to Plan Your Time and Choose the Right APIs

Have you participated in a hackathon before? If so, share some of your tips in a comment below!