4 Steps to Win Your Next Hack-A-Thon

KnowURShowerKnowURShower, a concept designed by EI students, took first place in NC State’s first annual Make-A-Thon – turning a typical Hack-A-Thon model into an opportunity to help the community learn more about saving water during showers.

Competition was stiff during the weekend-long event, with innovators working for roughly 40 hours on solutions to waste, water, and energy problems. Team members Derek Whatley, Bryan Murphy, Brian Iezzi, and Michael Melli claimed the top spot and made saving look simple.

Derek Whatley, a senior in Computer Engineering and an Albright Entrepreneurs Village resident, shares his tips here to help you go for the gold at your next challenge!

1) Having too many similarities in your team can be a bad thing

If everyone is good at the same things, it will be hard to split up the work and you might end up in an echo chamber during brainstorming sessions. On the other hand, too much variance might make it difficult to decide on a project everyone can take part in.

Luckily, my team found a balance – two members worked on circuit prototyping and programming, one worked on 3D modeling, and another on branding. Having two of our team members focused on technical work was good since we decided to build hardware and an app over the weekend. During some parts of the weekend, we split off to allow each sub-team to focus on their task.

2) Dedicate some time to brainstorming

Our team had a 30-minute session where we split up and wrote down any ideas we had. When the 30 minutes were up we went around the table and pitched our ideas to each other. With this technique, we hoped to generate more varied ideas.

Next time, I would try to implement a system where each team member could allocate points to ideas after the pitching session. My team ended up going with my idea, but initially I wasn’t sure if I had strong-armed my thoughts onto my teammates. I think letting everyone assign votes privately would resolve any potential power struggles and ensure that everyone was engaged in the final idea.

3) Brand yourself appropriately

During our brainstorming session we discussed an idea from a purely technical perspective. We were lucky to have a team member who recognized our team’s need for branding and took it upon himself to create a logo. No matter how cool your tech demo is (we had an app communicating with some “breadboarded” electronics), it is always valuable to be able to show the judges what a product might look like in its final form.

4) Perform a feasibility study

Despite our tech demo, our project wouldn’t have seemed as legitimate if we hadn’t given judges any idea of how the product could be taken from prototype to product, how it would be marketed, or what the use cases would be.

Our branding-focused team member included statistics for the Wolf Ridge Apartment complex in terms of installation cost, water savings, and time to pay back the initial investment. Explicitly show the value of your invention with numbers, figures, and historical data.

What are your tips for a Hack-A-Thon? Let us know on Twitter @NCStateEI

About the Author

Derek is a Computer Engineering student interested in hardware and software development with special interest in Open Source and Virtual Reality. When he’s not looking at a screen, you’ll likely find Derek shredding the local mountain bike trails or reading about a new programming language.

Follow Derek on Twitter @derekwhatley and connect with him on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/derekwhatley

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