Preparing for a Hackathon (a Mobile Perspective)

The time-pressure imposed at hackathons make it essential for teams to prepare ahead of time so that they can focus on the most critical tasks (building the actual product) the day of the event. Typically though, hackers come in without a team or idea. Whether you fall under this category or not, preparation is still important. Given that a full-blown business and a polished working product is unlikely to be built overnight, the point of a hackathon should be to learn as much as you can as well as form long-lasting relationships with people in your team—the burning desire for building and creating new things does not stop after a weekend!

Let’s say you do have a team and an idea to work on over the course of a sleep-deprived weekend. So where should you start? I thought I’d share some mobile-specific (Android and iOS) tools and projects you can leverage to bootstrap the development process.


If you want to do data-persistence you can always build your own server logic, create RESTful APIs and create database schemas, but if you want a simple back-end service solution, the best option right now is to use Parse. Parse allows you to create models in a nice visual dashboard and then automatically creates a RESTful API for you to do CRUD operations on that model. Best of all, Parse is free until you hit a million requests on the API which is something you don’t have to worry about in a hackathon setting. In short, if you’re building a mobile app and you don’t have a dedicated server guy, go with Parse.


If you’re going to be integrating with some sort of web service (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), chances are, you’ll be using their APIs. Perhaps you might build your own API. Regardless, client-side you’ll need a pretty solid networking library to use. iOS and Android have their native implementations but you’ll be better of using a 3rd party library with a much simpler API that abstracts all the nitty-gritty details of HTTP. For iOS, AFNetworking and RestKit (uses AFNetworking) are the common solutions, whereas for Android, you have a couple of options but to name a few OkHTTP, Retrofit and android-async-http are pretty solid.

Convenience Libraries

Do you make common mistakes on Android such as forgetting to check for null? Do you have the issue of stale objects such as Fragments and/or Activities when doing callbacks? A couple of ways to get around that is to use Guava which has a lot of convenience classes that for Java, and to use some sort of event bus such as Square’s Otto to avoid callback nightmare.

Hopefully these tools help you with your next Hackathon. If you have any suggestions/tips please feel free to leave a comment. Keep hacking!