Let’s start with the question: What is a Hackathon?
The name Hackathon is a portmanteau of hack – intended as exploratory programming – and marathon. Normally it consists of a group of computer programmers and other people involved in software development that meet/come together to code collaboratively in an extreme manner over a short period of time, normally a few days.
In my case, the Hackathon was organized by Trivago: they selected 50 applicants from all over Europe, and the topic was geodata.
I was really surprised when I arrived the first day: the Trivago building in Dusseldorf is really amazing, and we were invited to watch the football match between Germany and France. Beer, drinks and snacks were waiting for us!
After the match there was the official prehack: a little “welcome party” that gave us the opportunity to explore a bit, have a talk with the staff of Trivago and meet the other hackers; this was probably the most important moment for me, because I arrived alone from Italy and I needed a team to work with! That means, put on a big smile, and talk with as many hackers as possible.
The following morning: I still didn’t have a team.. Luckily I had already some interesting proposals, but I wasn’t sure how to choose, so I prefered to wait.
During the breakfast I found the first not German hacker, a very smart guy from Milan. He didn’t speak German, and he hadn’t a team too. We decided to search together for a team: the instructions were to form groups of five people, and finally we joined two programmers and a designer.
Little time was left before the start of the official Hackathon, and we needed to decide very fast what to do, and how to do it.. not easy to coordinate the work of five strangers.
Every team were assigned an own big conference room to work in, equipped with a fridge full of soft drinks, water and beer, a big bowl with food and snacks, a smaller bowl with Haribo sweeties and a coffee machine. Just one word: wow.
Now, I was in there with four people that I didn’t even know, the Hackathon had officially started and time was running. We had a lot of ideas, perhaps too many, and we tried to create a “concept”: improve the Hotel search for customers with trip suggestions, taking into account trend analysis, weather, events, and other useful information that we extrapolated from the geodata.
Before starting with the actual programming, we needed to clarify our different opinions, and to take time to discuss about how to proceed, how to divide the tasks and which technologies to use.
A lot of lines of code later (and something like liters of coffee, probably the only way to survive a Hackathon), it was three o’clock am, time to sleep and rest a bit. But it wasn’t really possible to relax: the next morning we had to wake up at 7 am and run to our computers.. we had left only few hours of Hackathon and we really needed to hurry up!
In the early evening our time was up: each team had only three minutes to talk about their work, and convince the jury about their concept. It was really surprising to see how many different ideas and projects came out in only two days! The best three teams won a price in money… but even who didn’t win like my team got a nice surprise: every participant received a Raspberry Pi!
In conclusion, when I think about this wonderful experience, I can only suggest to each of you to do the same as I did: event when you think that it’s impossible that they will select you, try anyway! And if you get the chance, just grab it! Buy your flight and go, don’t miss out on such an opportunity: You will learn a lot from the persons you meet, and it’s probably the most pleasant way to grow up professionally for both students and not.