Life Lessons Learnt From Heading a Hackathon

Flashback to four months ago when the business association I was volunteering for mentioned the idea of running a hackathon alongside their annual business forum, the “hackathon seed” was planted. Appointed to co-lead the hackathon segment with one of the member of the 6-team strong core committee, I had no idea what I was signing up for.

No one in the team had experience organizing a hackathon; I was the only one who had participated in a couple of it and that’s all! All we knew was that it would be cool to organize one. We challenged the conventional weekend hackathon model and settled for a hybrid hackathon-case challenge that lasted for a week. We had 6 case sponsors from various industry crystalize their operational issues into problem statements for participants to challenge. Boy oh boy, it was one heck of a 4 months I had! I probably would have never agreed to it knowing how soul-destroying it was. But still, there are some lessons that I had learnt and wish to impart to you:

Life Lesson 1: Always Take Promise with a Pinch of Salt

People can promise you this and that but at the end of the day, they own you nothing. They are not obliged to do what was promised, neither are you allowed to enforce it. It all boils down to the fact that business is business, mutual benefit is mutual if he or she benefits it more than you. Unless written in black and white, never take promises for granted. Always take things with a pinch of salt and do not hold grudges if promises don’t actualize. This leads to my second life lesson: Plan ahead of your planned plan

Life Lesson 2: Plan ahead of your Planned Plan

Plan plan plan. Period. I can’t stress enough the importance of planning, for I have failed terribly for failing to plan out a contingency plan. When things go wrong, it will snowball until you are able to grab a hold of it or have someone experienced enough to bail you out (Trust me, I have been there, done that.)

Even if you have planned out well enough to pass the eyes of the experienced, Murphy’s Law (What goes wrong, will go wrong) never fails to foil your plan. Always make the effort to draft out Plan B, or even Plan C for it may be your life savior in the event of a fallout.

Life Lesson 3: Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

Organizing a hackathon is tough enough. Opting out of the tradition hackathon model and doing something new is even tougher considering that every “How to Organize a Hackathon” or “Hackathon 101” guide became a reference rather than a template. What’s more, our hackathon was divided into “Student” and “Open Category”, adding another layer of complexity in a bid to appeal to a larger audience. My unwillingness (or rather, inability) to delegate work caused me countless nights drafting letters and emails, planning the program and corresponding with sponsors.

Hence, even if you feel guilty delegating work or prefer to do it yourself because you THINK you can do a better job, make the conscious effort to delegate available tasks on hand to your committee. They are there for a reason and delegating work will go a long way in keeping you sane and well rested.

Life Lesson 4: Learn to Fight Alone

There will be moments when you don’t get the help you have expected (Linking back to lesson 1, don’t take promises for granted). There were moments when I thought to myself: “What am I doing all these for? Why did I trust him/her? Could I be doing something more meaningful?” While I was fortunate to co-lead the hackthon with my mentor, he is no superman or hackathon guru. You will definitely come to a point when burnout sets in and you feel helpless and hopeless. It’s these moments that your actions define you. Push on and make it count.

Life Lesson 5: Be Prepared to be Disappointed Again and Again

Despite all the hard work that you put in, things will never go according to plan. Remember the unyielding Murphy’s Law? This is why you always plan ahead of your planned plan. Empty promises, backing out in the last minute,, failure to deliver; you name it, I’ve experienced it.

Other than disappointment in others, you will be disappointed in yourself. Zero experience is often my “Get Out of Jail, Free” card for any blunders I’ve made, but it is by no means an excuse for everything. Time after time I was disappointed in myself for failing to meet the demands and execute what was expected. It is as if success just happens to be beginner’s luck. But trust me, your luck gets better after a few rounds of failures.

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done” -Rocky Balboa

Life Lesson 6: Don’t Strive for Perfection. Instead, Strive for Completeness

When one has seemingly an endless list of things to do, never try to do things perfectly. Instead, aim to check it off and move on. I am a self-proclaimed perfectionist, or even borderline OCD: I would proofread my drafts a couple times, send it to others and proofread it again! In the weeks leading up to the hackathon when time is of the essence, such a behavior is unwarranted.

Start with the end goal in mind and aim for practicality. Make a couple revisions, make sure that what you are doing achieves what you have set out to do and move on; no point lingering around just to make it perfect.

Life Lesson 7: Just Do It

Don’t wait for things to happen, cause everyone in the team is going to think the same way. Instead, take the initiative to just do it. This is human nature- no one wants to do the dirty work when they have ‘better’ things to do. Things will not work out on its own. If it does, that’s because someone did the hard work, not some fairy who waved his or her magic wand and things magically get done.

One thing to note is that be prepared to spend a heck lot of time learning new stuff. I have spent countless hours searching for templates and drafting letters to for the sponsors and participants. It was a steep learning curve learning how to integrate the various aspects of a hackathon (sponsors, food, venue, participants, logistics etc… ) and ensuring that things fall in place seamlessly on the actual day.

Life Lesson 8: Know Your WHY

In overall, the hackathon was a success despite all the hiccups along the way. At the end of the hackathon finals when everyone was having a great time celebrating, I saw their smiles and laughters. It took me a good couple of minutes to register and soak it all in but that’s when I realized: I found my WHY.

The hackathon was more than just an event for participants to compete against one other for the cash prizes. It was an event that brought together people from all walks of life and having them plant an idea in someone. It was bringing friends who are often busy with their own stuff together and having a fun time. It was seeing the smiles of everyone who had attended and gained something out of this event. For me, it was seeing the hackathon seed grow and come to fruition; and I was fortunate to have grown alongside the hackathon to be a better organizer, a better friend and best of all, a better individual.

Thanks to everyone who have made this event possible. #hackathon #noregrets

Source by Wei Chun Chew

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