What I Learned From a 48 Hour Hackathon
I’ve been studying UX Design at Lambda School for a little over 15 weeks now and have learned more than I could have ever imagined before. The week of the fourth of July is a holiday week for Lambda School students, but we get the choice to opt into a 48-hour hackathon. All students are welcome to submit their ideas and form teams to participate. I ended up joining a team of 5 developers based in different parts of the country/world. We created an app called Satoshi’s Law, which tracks billable hours and allows users to get paid via the Bitcoin lightning network. After a long, productive 48 hours, we actually ended up winning Mobile: Most Polished UI in Lambda School’s 2019 Summer Hackathon!
While I learned so much, these are the top three things I learned from participating in a 48-hour hackathon:
Communication is the actual key to success
I truly believe that communication can make or break a group project, especially when working with a strict deadline. Communication was crucial for our team for many reasons. One is that we were not all based in the same city. In fact, none of us were. Two developers were in California, one in Texas, I’m in Louisiana, another developer in Georgia, and one developer in Nigeria. We all utilized Slack throughout the hackathon and used Zoom for two standups each day. We talked about what we accomplished, what we were struggling with, and what we planned on working on between then and the next standup. Most of the developers stayed on a Zoom call throughout the day that way they could unmute their mics and talk about any issue immediately. My situation was unique because most of the developers hadn’t worked with a UX Designer before. So my job consisted of not only communicating my ideas for how the app should look and flow, but also teaching things like features of prototyping tools (InVision) and empathy for potential users.
The importance of research and wireframing
A 48-hour hackathon is super challenging for designers to go through the whole design process in that short amount of time. I had to develop a pretty clear understanding of what was being attempted to be built, research similar products and competitors, work with the team to define what realistic MVP features could get built in less than two days, and actually design the UI for it. I definitely felt like I rushed, and sometimes skipped, parts of the design process which added some bumps in the road later. I jumped into putting together high-fidelity designs instead of sketching and wireframing first. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve devoted 30 minutes to an hour just to brainstorm with pen and paper.
Absorb as much new information as possible
There were so many ideas for projects that I thought were cool. One was a way to treat tinnitus by using AI and machine learning, another was a family life organizer, and another was a web app that helps users practice Spanish verb conjugations. But what drove me to Satoshi’s Law? I knew absolutely nothing about cryptocurrency, thought it was interesting, and knew this would be a great opportunity to do some research to learn more about it. One of the developers was really passionate about cryptocurrency, so it was cool to be able to ask questions and pick up different bits of knowledge. Working on this project inspired me to make a Coinbase account and keep learning more.
I used this as an opportunity to teach myself Figma. It has some awesome collaboration features that were exciting to use with the development team. I ultimately ended up going back to Sketch, but I enjoyed learning a new tool. This was also my first time designing in dark mode. I really dove into Material Design to help guide my process and keep things consistent throughout the app.
When taking on any challenge, it’s almost impossible not to learn something new. But being deliberate about pushing your limits to grow and absorb as much of the experience as possible is so valuable. I’m really glad that I chose to take on these challenges for a couple of days instead of taking that time off. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn so much and work with some outstanding developers to create something really cool!
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