Inside the Hackathon Organiser’s Backpack


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keep_calm_and_hackathonI’ve done my fair share of hackathon organising over the years. From small 30 person “specialist” hacks, to larger, 200+ affairs like Music Hack Day London. Over that time I’ve built up a checklist of items that I try to ensure I have with me on the day to make sure everything runs smoothly.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and only covers the scrappier DIY end of the hackathon spectrum. There’s certainly going to be more insight from people who read this too, so I’d love to see contributions in the comments below.

 

The Hackathon Backpack

Sharpies & A4 Paper

The height of technology. Sometimes, you’ll use a venue that is supposed to provide signage that tells people where to go or where the toilets are, and it never appears. No problem, make your own and let the inner sign writer in you run free.

Stickers

If you’re low budget, packs of stickers are fine for name badges or identifying staff members.

Wristbands/Hand Stamps

It’s always a good idea to have a way of identifying who is supposed to be in the room, particularly if you’re running your event in a building that might be easy to just walk into. Cheap wristbands, or hand stamps (like you get at concerts and bars) are essential and easy to get hold of. I get mine from eBay.

Adapters

It would be great if every venue had these as standard, or if everyone remembered to bring their own with them, but it will never happen. As the organiser, cut down on call outs for adapters from the stage by having them all handy. Beg, borrow or buy at least these:

Lindy Switch Box

  • MiniDisplay Port to VGA
  • MiniDisplay Port to DVI
  • Lightening to VGA (for the iPad & iPhone demos)
  • 30-pin to VGA (for the older iPad & iPhone demos)

The inevitable switch between Mac and PC will happen, so consider getting a 2 port switch box to make that transition a bit easier. Lindy and Belkin manufacture a bunch of options that are affordable and do the trick.

Finally, having some HDMI and VGA cable handy for extensions or just a complete lack of cables is super useful.

Adapter-less options

Some of the smoother transitions on stage I’ve seen have come from using an Apple TV as the device that the Mac users present through using AirPlay. This works especially well if there’s a dedicated WiFi SSID for that device and the presenters.

Plugging this into a switch box like the Lindy C175 makes it easy to jump between HDMI and VGA sources, and take the audio with you as well!

My most recent addition is a Google Chromecast that can plug into any HDMI compatible TV or projector. Any machine using the Google Chrome browser on the same WiFi network can stream to it. I haven’t needed it yet but I think I will very soon, it’s awesome.

Connectivity

Two real life situations have presented themselves at hack days before:

  1. Zero wireless connectivity
  2. No connectivity whatsoever

Both make me want to curl up into a ball in the corner and weep, but you have to at least try something.

TP Wireless Router

No wireless sucks, so just in case I have a TP TL-WR702N Wireless Router with me to plug into the ethernet as a backup. It’s USB powered and the size of a credit card but it could really save the day – or at least let things get moving with the demos whilst the WiFi gets sorted out.

For zero connectivity, I have a 4G MiFi device on me that can cover up to 8 simultaneous connections without catching fire. Ask around and see if anyone else does as well (make sure they’re on an unlimited plan).

Pro Tip: Lots of Developer Evangelists carry MiFis. If you run into this problem, don’t be afraid to ask them to handle the connectivity for the table they’re sitting on with their device.

A GoPro Hero 3+

This is a new addition for me. Depending on budget, you can’t always film the demos at a hackathon but having an online record of the hack is important. At the very least, set this fantastic bit of kit running and chop the footage up afterwards. With a little thought about the lighting and the audio you can make even static shots watchable.

Miscellaneous backups

Printouts of the attendee names, batteries, Euro/US/UK adapters, 64GB USB stick, a small first aid kit and a jumbo size pack of headache tablets.

The backpack!

The backpack I use isn’t made any more. It’s a sturdy Wenger SwissGear backpack. The closest they still make is the Wenger Pegasus and it’s got space for everything with room left over.


So there you go, some essential kit that hardly fills a backpack at all, but it just makes me feel more confident going into an event that I’ve organised personally knowing that I can fix some of the problems I’ve seen happen over the years–both to me and to others.

As I said up top, this is by no means an exhaustive list and I’d love to know if there’s other stuff out there that people are using to make their hacking events run super smooth. For example, I know one organiser that has a tiny portable projector with them just in case the main one blows up.

If you’ve got additions to this, let’s hear about them in the comments below.

For ideas of what other evangelists carry, for hackathons and other events, take a look inside the evangelist’s travel kit.

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Martyn Davies is a Developer Evangelist at SendGrid and a creative developer based in London. He has worked in technology for over 14 years with a background in both the music industry and technology. A serial hackathon organiser, mentor and startup advisor, you’ll find him presenting, demoing, hacking and chatting at hack days, conferences and meetups in the UK & Europe on a regular basis.

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