QA: Hackathons

    The final part of the hackathon trilogy. In the first part I talked about the motivation to participate in such events. The second part was devoted to the mistakes of the organizers and their results. The final part will answer questions that did not fit in the first two parts.

    - Tell me how you started participating in hackathons.

    - I studied at the magistracy of the University of Lappeenranta, simultaneously solving the competition for data analysis. My typical day looked like this: getting up at 8, a few pairs at the university, then competitions and a cursor until midnight (while it is considered to be a submit, I watch lectures or read articles). Such a tight schedule bore fruit, and I won the MERC-2017 data analysis competition (which was even a post on Habr) The victory gained confidence, and when I accidentally stumbled upon information about the SkinHack 2 hackathon in Moscow, I decided to visit my parents and at the same time find out what it is - a hackathon.

    The hackathon itself turned out pretty funny. There were two tracks for data analysis with a clear metric and dataset with prize money of 100k rubles. The third track was application development with a prize of 50k, and there were no participants in it. At one point, the organizer said that a window with a button without functionality could win 50k, because the prize could not be paid. I did not learn to program applications (I do not compete where they can easily turn me over), but for me it was a clear message that the fields in the hackathons were not clogged.

    Then I solved both tracks for data analysis alone. I found a face in the data that allowed me to beat the perfect speed, but the column with the face was not in the test data that I received two hours before the end of the event (by the way, then I understood that the presence of the “target” column in the train does not count as face ) At the same time, a leaderboard opened, my submission without a face took the third place out of five, there was a big gap before the first one and I decided not to waste time and left.

    After I analyzed what happened, I found a bunch of mistakes (one of my habits is to mentally scroll through what happened with the notebook and analyze the errors, their cause, and what could be changed - such a pleasant legacy of a semi-professional poker game). But one thing was clear for sure - in hackathons there is a lot of value, and I simply must implement it. After this event, I began to monitor events and groups, and the subsequent hackathon was not long in coming. Then one more, and another ...

    - Why are you doing hackathons, and not kagl?

    - At the moment, I do not like the cuggle. From a certain skill level, without specific reasons for participating, the cough becomes less useful than other activities. I participated a lot before, apparently, I managed to somehow “get off”.

    - Why hackathons, and not work on your project?

    - I am impressed with the idea of ​​doing something cool with my own hands at a slow pace. The guys from ODS organized ODS pet projects for everyone who wants to take up their project on the weekend with like-minded people. I think that soon I will join them.

    - How do you find events?

    - The main source is (world) and a chat in the telegram Russian Hackers (Russia). Plus, event announcements skip in advertising on social networks and in linkedin. If you didn’t find anything, you can see it here:,,,,,

    - Are you preparing a decision plan before participating or is everything decided on the go? For example, a week before the hackathon, you wonder: “Here you will need such and such a specialist, you will need to search”?

    - If the food hackathon - yes, I'm getting ready. A few weeks before, I figure out what I will do, figure out who can come in handy, assemble a team of friends or participants of past hackathons.

    - Really hack hackathon alone? What if there is no team?
    - Datasaens hackathons - really (I am a living example of this), food - I have not seen, although I also think so. Unfortunately, sometimes the organizers impose a limit on the minimum number of participants in a team. I think this is due to the fact that not all “loners” reach the finals (that is, they simply leave with the first difficulties), participation in the team is still holding back. Even after the event, it is assumed that you continue to work on the project. With a team to bring the project to mind will be easier.

    In general, I advise you to always participate with the team. If you do not have your own team, then the organizers will always help in order to find or create one.

    - How do you manage to cope with fatigue during a hackathon?
    - At the hackathon, 2 days are given for work, it is 48 hours (30-48 hours, take 48 for simplicity of counting). We remove the time for sleep (16-20 hours), no more than 30 remain. Of these, 8 hours (on average) will actually go to productive work. If you organize the work correctly (sleep, food, going out into the fresh air, charging, minutes of awareness, proper communication with the team and switching activity), then deep work hours can be achieved up to 12-14. After such work you will feel exhausted, but it will be pleasant fatigue. Coding without sleep and interruptions interrupting power engineers - the path to failure.

    - Do you have your own ready-made pipes for hackathons? How did you get them, how are they arranged for you (each folder contains .py files for each task, etc.) and how do you start creating such ones yourself?

    - I do not use completely ready-made solutions of past hackathons in new ones, but I have my own zoo of models and piplines from past competitions. I do not have to rewrite standard pieces from scratch (for example, the correct target encoding or a simple grid to extract intent from the text), which saves me a lot of time.

    At the moment, it looks like this: for each competition or hackathon there is a repo on the github, it stores laptops, scripts and a little documentation about what is happening. Plus there is a separate repo for all sorts of boxed "chips" (like the correct target encoding with cross-validation). I do not think that this is the most elegant solution, but so far I am satisfied.

    I would start by saving all my code in folders and writing short documentation (why, what, how, and did the result).

    - Is it realistic to prepare MVP from scratch in such a short time, or are all participants coming with ready-made solutions?

    - I can only say about projects related to datasaens - yes, maybe. MVP for me is a combination of two factors:

    • A viable idea presented as a product (i.e. painted on a business canvas). There should always be a clear understanding of why and for whom we make the product. Sometimes projects with a well-founded project, but without a prototype win prizes, and this is not surprising. Unfortunately, many participants cannot ignore the bitterness of defeat and blame their failures for the short-sightedness of the organizers, continuing to cut models for some reason it is not clear to anyone at the following hackathons.
    • Some indicator that you can make this product (application, code, description of pipelines).

    It happens that a team comes to the hackathon with a ready-made solution and tries to “fit” it into the task of the organizers. Such teams are cut off at a technical screening or only the part that they did on the site is “considered”. I did not see such teams in the winners, but I think it is still profitable for them to go because of future value ( contacts, datasets, etc. ).

    - Are there any examples of bringing crafts implemented on hackathons to production / startup?

    - Yes. I had three cases when I was brought to production. Once myself, twice - by someone else’s hands based on my ideas and the code that I wrote on the hackathon. I also know a couple of teams that continued to work with the company as consultants. I don’t know the final results, but most likely something was done to the end. Startups themselves did not organize and I do not know if anyone should do it, although I am sure there are examples.

    - After participating in many hackathons, what advice would you give yourself if you could return to the past?

    1. Tactics are more important than maneuvers. Think of each solution as a finished product. An idea, a Jupiter laptop, an algorithm cost nothing if it is not clear who will pay for it.
    2. Before designing anything, answer the question not “what?”, But “why?” And “how?”. Example: when designing any ML solution, first think about the ideal algorithm: what does it get as input, how are its predictions used in the future?
    3. Take part in the team.

    - What is usually fed on hackathons?

    - Usually they feed poorly on hackathons: pizza, energy, soda. Almost always, food is organized in the form of a buffet (or serving table) to which a huge queue is built. Usually they don’t feed at night, although there was a case at one competition in Paris for the night they left to eat - chips, donuts and cola. I will introduce the thought process of the organizers: “So what do the programmers eat there? Oh sure! Chips, donuts - that’s all. We’ll put this stuff to them. ”The next day I asked the organizers:“ Guys, is it possible to do something else at night? Well there, porridge for example? ”After that they looked at me like an idiot. Famous French hospitality.

    At good hackathons, food is ordered in boxes, there is a division into regular, vegetarian and kosher food. Plus they put a fridge with yoghurts, muesli - for those who want a snack. Tea, coffee, water are standard. I remember the Hack Moscow 2 hackathon - they mentally fed borsch and meatballs with mashed potatoes in the dining room of the 1C office.

    - The sanity of hackathons depends, so to speak, on the professional sphere of the organizers (for example, the best hackathons are carried out by consultants)?

    - The best hackathons were from the organizers, who either had organized hackathons before, or participated earlier. Perhaps this is the only factor on which the quality of the event depends.

    - How to understand that you are not a noob and it's time for a hackathon?

    - The best time to go to the hackathon is a year ago. The second best time is now. So go ahead, make a mistake, learn - this is normal. Even the neural network - the greatest invention of man after the wheel and gradient boosting over trees - cannot distinguish a cat from a dog in the first era of training.

    - What “red flags" immediately indicate that the event will not be very and should not be wasted time?

    • A clear description of what needs to be done (relevant for food features). If you are clearly assigned a task during registration, it is best to stay at home. In my memory there was not a single good hackathon with TK. For comparison: Good - do us something related to the analysis of audio conversations. Bad - make us an application that would be able to split the conversation into two separate audio tracks for each person.
    • Small prize pool. If you are asked to make a “tinder for an online store with AI” and a prize for first place of 500 euros and a minimum team size of 5 people, then perhaps you should not waste time (yes, this is a real hackathon that was held in Munich).
    • Lack of data (relevant for datasens hackathons). Organizers usually provide basic event information and sometimes a sample dataset. If you haven’t provided, ask, it won’t leave you. If for 2-3 it is not clear what data will be provided and whether it will be at all - this is a red flag.
    • New organizers. Do not be lazy and google information about the organizers of the hackathon. If they hold an event of this kind for the first time, it is likely that something will go wrong. On the other hand, if the organizer and the jury have already performed hackathons or have actively participated in the past, this is a green flag.

    - At one hackathon, they told me: “You had the best decision in the near future, but I'm sorry, our team work is evaluated, and you worked alone. Now, if you took a student or a girl to the team ... ”? Have you encountered such injustice? How did you do it?

    - Yes, I have met more than once. I am stoic about everything that happens: I did everything in my power, if it didn’t work out - so be it.

    “Why are you doing all this?”

    - All this is just out of boredom.

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