Or, what to expect at a hack

I went to my first hack a couple of weeks ago and wanted to (belatedly) share with you my experience and maybe even convince you to go to one yourself!

LeedsHack was held in Leeds City Museum on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd August. The aim of the game was to create a demoable project or hack in just 24 hours, with coding starting at 12pm on Saturday and finishing at noon on Sunday. The hack could be absolutely anything you like, and if it really stood out you might win a prize. I didn’t have a clue what to expect from the weekend, but had a great time, and learnt a few things that would help me be less of a n00b at my next hack.

Self-explanatory really.

A photo posted by Claire (@flynner__) on

Hack Misconception #1

You don’t have to stay awake for 24 hours

Obvious to some but not to me. If your hack lasts for 24 hours, it’s not against the rules to fall asleep during that time! Of course some people stayed up all night, but others brought sleeping bags with them and found a quiet corner somewhere. I, however, went home for an extra long disco nap, because it turns out …

Hack Misconception #2

You don’t have to stay at the hack venue for the whole duration

Just as you’re not legally obliged to stay awake, neither are you chained to the table when you begin your hack. You can come and go from the venue as you like, although the museum closed at 5pm and we had to rely on the nice security guard to let us in and out the side door until it reopened on Sunday morning.

Hack Misconception #3

You don’t need a team to enter the hack

Solo hackers are welcome, and you might even meet people to team up with when you arrive. I teamed up with a couple of guys from work and shared all the pain fun of pushing and pulling on a Git repo with them.

Hack Misconception #4

You don’t have to be a hacker to hack at a hack

Have you been coding for 10 years or 10 months? It doesn’t matter! All you need to qualify to enter a hack is a willingness to sit on your bum at a computer for a long time, write some code and spend a lot of time on Stack Overflow. And think of all the new things you’ll learn in that 24 hours stretch! A bit closer to that 10,000 eh?

Hack Misconception #5

You don’t need to hack hardware

I always thought of hacking as something you do with hardware, and imagined people with bashing bits of metal with hammers and soldering robots together, but a hack can be whatever you want it to be: a website, a Raspberry Pi project, an app, a command line game, whatever.

Hack Misconception #6

You need an idea

It will save you time if you already know what you want to build before you start, but this isn’t obligatory, and if you feel more comfortable flying by the seat of your pants then you can wait to decide on your project once the clock starts ticking instead. But if you can, do a little investigation beforehand into the viability of your project before you start to avoid losing too much coding time. Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance!

Hack Truth #1

Hackers eat junk food

They do and you will too. It’s great. The food was provided by LeedsHack and their generous sponsors - Dominos for dinner, Greggs bacon butties for breakfast and Subway for lunch when we finished hacking on Sunday! All good brain food.

Hack Truth #2

TDD FTW

I found it really liberating to code something that I knew would be throwaway code and didn’t need to be reusable or even readable. However our hack didn’t quite work at demo time but I like to think that if we’d followed Test-Driven-Development principles from the start then we would have had a better chance of submitting a working project! We’ll never know …

Hack Truth #3

You will enjoy it!

Lame but true, it was really fun. I loved the atmosphere and everyone was really friendly. I was pretty knackered by the end but it was a really enjoyable way to spend a weekend - and it was probably the first time I’d ever seen 6am on a Sunday. It was a great way to meet people in the tech community from Leeds and beyond and learn some new tech skillz. Get out your coding comfort zone and try a hack!