Last weekend I attended my first ever hackathon, IC Hack 19! It was a truly incredible experience, thanks to my teammates, the excellent organisers and generous sponsors. We had so much fun building ParaPhrase, a mobile app for paramedics that summarises everything that happens from when they first reach the scene until they reach the hospital, where they can quickly handover a full breakdown of events. You can read more about it on DevPost: https://devpost.com/software/paraphrase
As this was our first hackathon, we didn't set our expectations too high in terms of the end product, so we were thrilled that our app worked by the end of the 24 hours. To be nominated as a finalist was something else, and winning the award for Best Newcomer's Hack was out of this world. Furthermore, technology in medicine and healthcare is something I'm really passionate about, so to win with this idea made it even more surreal.
Even though we won an award, there was so much we learnt from IC Hack 19, which I've taken the time to note down here:
🔧 Management is hard
With four of us on the team, delegating the tasks involved with building such a complex system in such a short space of time was nearly as hard as building the system itself. We had to make sure that everyone had something to do, everyone was doing tasks suited to their strengths and the dependencies required to begin other tasks were completed at the right time. Fortunately, careful planning in advance, both in terms of understanding everyone's skillset and the project itself, meant we were able to manage the project well for the most part.
For future hackathons, as we start to work on more advanced projects, I see this as something we'll need to give even more attention to. We'll continue to understand each other's strengths as our technical skills develop, plan our projects carefully and look into some of the many tools out there for us to keep track of what we need to be doing over the hackathon.
💬 Communication is key
As I set out in the section above, hackathons are definitely not just about the technical aspect. Adding to technical development and collaboration, communication was also something really important throughout the weekend and something I feel we could have done better. As a team, we spent lots of the weekend talking to each other: discussing progress, teaching each other new things and, of course, just having fun. That was great and we'll continue to do that. Furthermore, we did communicate our idea and what we built well, which helped us win, however, there is definitely room for improvement here.
We spent time preparing a demo, but this didn't really include future plans for the app, both in terms of what we didn't get to build over the weekend and more long-term ideas. We're definitely going to invest more time in communicating our journey as a whole - past, present and future - as opposed to just talking about what we achieved. Whilst we had a few images, we didn't have any graphics, videos or slides. I feel like these would have helped us communicate our journey a lot better, and we're definitely going to spend time on that in the future.
🏆 It's more than a competition
The competitive nature of hackathons means it can be quite easy to forget that hackathons are as much a learning experience as they are a competition. I certainly learnt a huge amount from this weekend, both individually and as a team member, as set out above (although there's so much more I haven't written about). Whilst we didn't focus too much on the competitive part of last weekend until the judging stage, I can see this as something that could get the better of us at future hackathons.
Whilst we'll always strive to do the best we possibly can, I'll always prioritise having fun as a team, learning new things and just enjoying the experience. Purely focusing on winning could easily detract from the experience, and I feel like the best outcomes will always occur when everyone has had a wholesome time.
Overall, I had so much fun, learnt a huge amount and came away with a lot. Bring on the next hackathon!