This blog post is merely my opinion and is total conjecture. Take it or leave it.
This year will be my 3rd or 4th year attending Hack Manchester. It's a great event and one that I enjoy every year.
Here are hopefully some tips that you may find useful if you are attending this year.
What are you looking to get from Hack Manchester?
For whatever reason you are attending the hackathon, you should be clear of your reasons/intentions to both yourself and your team.
Are you attending with the sole intention of winning prizes, to be uber competitive, stopping at nothing to win and failure is not an option?
Are you wanting to play around with a new technology and learn it as you create something over 24 hours?
Are you wanting to hang/hack out with some like minded people and have an idea for something hilarious or useful?
People attend hackathons for different reasons. What is your reason?
Team or no team?
I think I've been in a team twice and also gone to HM solo twice as well.
Depending whether you are in a team or not determines the dynamics of how you work at HM.
One year I went solo, developed (and learned) a Windows 8.1 app that went on to have over 5,500 downloads from the Windows app Store. (No I didn't make $$$, it was free).
If you cannot or don't want to form a team, I wouldn't let that stop you from attending HM.
Do *some* prep before the event
You may want to at the very least check that some of the fundamental things you think you may want to do for your hack during HM is even possible (rather than learn it isn't during the event).
It's a good idea to know which challenge / project you are going to work on before the day. I've witnessed people several hours into HM still without an idea of what they want to do or which challenge(s) they are interested in. Precious hours lost.
You really should have your dev enironments / tools / SDKs already setup before the event. I've lost hours previously because a team member needed to download and install Visual Studio on an aging laptop.
4G Data teather / Personal wi-fi hotspot.
The wi-fi at Hackathons is generally very good, but they aren't always. If you have a half decent mobile data package and can create a wi-fi hotspot, then you have a good backup plan. If not then you had better pray to the wi-fi gods.
Challenge or no challenge?
You don't have to do any of the sponsor challenges. It wouldn't be very much in the spirit of the event if everyone decided to swerve the challenges but I like to see a wide range of hacks at hackathons, not rehashed, slightly different versions of the same solution. I've seen this happen if the scope of the challenges is a little on the narrow side.
Personally, I don't see the point of challenges that encourage useless (albeit whimsical) solutions. Developer time is so precious and valuable, I believe it should be used to create something that is genuinely useful. Preferably something that lives beyond the Hackathon, but hey ho.
Previously I found a great car park accross from MOSI called Water Street car park but I think it might have closed down now.
I think certain dev teams (sponsoring companies??) get to choose where they sit and setup before the doors open. So if you want to choose where to sit in the remaining places, you should arrive early.
I know it's October, almost November however, you may want to consider packing some shorts and cooler clothing to change into. They are always a lifesaver for me as it can get warm during hackathons.
With so many people in such a small area over 24 hours (more if you stick around for the awards show) without showering, things can get a bit funky. I'd always recommend being considerate to others by bringing some anti-perspirant. Also pack a toothbrush, I don't want you talking in my face with nasty hackathon breath. Also, if I offer you a mint, don't be offended.
Your body and especially brain needs water for peak performance. Keep your liquids up.
If you are feeling drowsy after hours of programming, then sometimes alcohol will make you very sleepy very quickly.
However if you're trying to achieve the Balmer peak, then you'll have to get your spirit level out for this particular balancing act. Only you know how well you program with alcohol.
I believe the bar is sponsored by the good people at Fanatics. Shout out to my old colleagues.
There are no prizes for being the most zombie like on the Sunday. It's not macho* to not sleep. I would really recommend getting some sleep.
Are you really making the best programming decisions if you are struggling to keep your eyes open or starting to hallucinate? I think not.
Even if you have a 2 hour cat nap, when you wake up you'll feel a lot more clear headed to continue working.
*Never have I seen an event so devoid of alphas.
At the end of the Hackathon, you are given some time to produce a minute long? video detailing your hackathon project. I am led to believe that the judges have generally made up their mind of some of the best projects even before watching the videos.
So I don't believe that the video is massively instrumental in the judges decision making process. They seem to be more informative for other HM attendees.
For that reason, personally, I wouldn't spend too long producing a expertly polished video.
That said, if you finish your hack early or have a spare person in your team, i'd start video production early.
Some of the best videos i've seen have a light hearted tone and sometimes quite funny.
One year at Hack Manchester I sat opposite a couple of blokes for whom 'F^%@' was obviously an important part of their vocabulary. Hearing sentences such as "Frak me, this fraking version of the fraking compiler is fraking fracked" (bot ruder) whilst is perhaps funny the first time I heard it, it got quickly boring / annoying / offensive.
Also i'd really try and keep noise to a miniumum. With so many people trying their best to concentrate, turning your music up and singing along to a dance version of Waterloo is really inconsiderate.
Headphones are your friend, as there is always someone who believes shouting a conversation accross a room is ok.
It is pretty obvious (at least to me) which projects were developed during the day, and which were pre-developed and just assembled during the weekend.
Assume the judges will want to look at your commit history (it is their prerogative to do so) and I like to see it when they do. I like to see them upholding their standards.
These events don't just happen by themselves.
The organisers work really hard and put a huge amount of effort (throughout the year) into making Hack Manchester an amazing Hackathon.
The sponsers help provide some of the things that make the hackathon more comfortable and enjoyable. They are also awesome.
This is by far the most important thing. HAVE FUN. You are spending your precious weekend away from your family and friends hopefully doing something that you love. If you're not enjoying yourelf, what are you doing there?