Prepare yourselves: how to survive a hardware hackathon aka buildathon

You already signed up for this, didn’t you? Firstly, congrats. You are one step closer to becoming a badass hacker.

And if you didn’t, now is the best time! (more information in the end)

First of all, a hackathon is not an exam, where one has to prepare beforehand. It’s the passion that is going to put you in the zone and keep you awake.

Nevertheless, we created a short list for you, so that you wouldn’t be sweating your head off, of course. If you already made it so far, that means you want to do well and be well prepared. Smart cookie. So grab yourself a cuppa and let’s dig into these tips and tricks, without bs.

Should you bring your own stuff?

Yes and definitely yes! Bring as much of your own stuff as possible. You don’t need to arrive with a fully loaded truck with some things which belong to the “just in case I need it” list. But you know your tools best and won't have to spend precious time waiting for a tool to become available or walking to retrieve it.

Still here are some things we recommend to bring:
  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • Comfortable shoes you can walk in. You should be getting up and walking regularly. It will give your brain a break and stretch your legs.
  • Extra batteries for any devices you'll be using.
  • Various charging cables
  • And for the love of god, wear comfortable clothes.
Use hot glue

Maybe you like living on the edge, a real free spirit. You have thought everything through, but that one thing has remained unnoticed- hot glueing. Nine times out of ten when a demo suddenly fails, it is caused by a loose wire. Hot glueing your wires to the breadboard will keep them from slipping out in the middle of a demo. And we wouldn’t want that to happen, don’t we?


Avoid. As much as possible. I repeat, as much as possible! It is hella time-consuming. You will do yourself a favour if you already know what you will build.

Instead, we recommend pre-soldering. But you just said to avoid soldering! Yes, you are right! But wouldn’t that be smart to get your parts pre-soldered before the event? Pre-solder header pins onto all of your parts, then use wires, and breadboards to attach everything. Alternatively, use plug-in components, such as the Arduino 101 and I2C sensors, or attach things using terminal blocks.

Pre-soldering + being a smart hacker = saves tons of time.

You’re welcome!

Work in stages

Can you imagine working on something for hours and then you hear the times out? This guy called “Time” has a habit of running out, unexpectedly.

You are a little bit more nervous than usual. Everything takes two times longer than planned. When you work in stages, assure you can still demo your project even if it is unfinished. So that you wouldn’t end up with two wires in one hand and an awkward smile on your face.

Debug problems

We recommend doing it step by step. Verify each component works as it should, and check the connections. Loose wires are usually the issue.

In general, when something isn’t working, try this:

Step 1: Check for heat. If you see fire, you might want to cry.

Step 2: Check for poor connections. If you just can’t seem to connect to your microcontroller from your laptop, it’s probably due to a bad USB cable. Note: MicroUSB ports on Arduinos can be surprisingly fragile, so be careful with them.

Step 3: Verify that every component is behaving as expected. Don’t forget about built-in LED outputs! Most microcontrollers have these, and they’re great for debugging in a pinch.

Last but not least, don’t forget to have fun and learn something new. Hackathons are meant for fun, to build something spontaneous. If you start going to hackathons with a prepared mindset, you might build something good but miss out on all the fun doing it.

All the best!

About the event

The global energy crisis is here and it affects almost all areas of life - let the price of domestic heating on the monthly bill as well as the significant increase in the value of the shopping basket be a prime example of this.

At build-a-thon, engineers from technical and functional backgrounds come together to form teams around a challenge or idea. Recognized mentors Tõnis Väli (Clevon), Robert Aare (CERN), Shahzaib Abbasi (Estanc) and others will also help the teams on site.

As a result of the joint work, solutions and prototypes are developed, and a prize fund of 10,000 euros awaits the best teams.

All teams will come up with an idea and build a prototype within 48 hours using the available labs, tools and materials.

Build-A-Thon Energy weekend takes place from October 28-30 in Tartu, Estonia.

You can register alone or with a team until October 27 here https://eventornado.com/event/build-a-thon-energy.

This story was written by our marketing team member Anna Levandi.

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