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Top 5 tips for Surviving and Thriving in a Hackathon

By Coates


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Since 2018, participants from all over the world get together to contribute their diverse talents, time and innovative ideas to support McDonald’s in solving challenges for the future of its restaurants, its people and the wider community.     

For this year's Burger Hack, nearly 900 people from over 42 countries put their heads together to bring unique perspectives to the table and solve challenges that resulted in real-life McDonald’s innovations.  

Within Coates Group, we had 9 participants from the US, Canada and Australia work across six different teams in collaboration with McDonald’s employees as well as other vendors.   

After 36 hours of non-stop collaboration, hacking and tackling real-world problems, each team presented its ideas to the judges, and then the winners were announced.  

From the three winning categories this year, we were thrilled that one of our own, Ian Erickson, was a member of the winning team in the Restaurant category!   

So, we asked our Coates participants to channel their expertise, entrepreneurial spirit and creativity to give us their best advice on how to survive and thrive in a hackathon - and here’s what they said.   

Tip #1 - Plan ahead     

Focus on an idea ahead of time. One of the most vital elements to surviving and thriving in a hackathon involves planning and preparing before the hackathon has even begun. Discuss potential challenges with your team early on and brainstorm creative ideas at least a week in advance. That way, you can feel a little more at ease and focus your attention on solving the challenge rather than trying to scramble for what to solve once the event has begun.    

Tip #2– Seek out a well-rounded team   

Having people on board who aren't just tech-savvy but also diligent and fast decision-makers who can think on their feet is very important. Each team only have 36 hours to explore, take risks, and ideate solutions so, having that creative skillset to think outside the box is just as important as being technically sound.    

Tip #3 – Communication is key 

Each team needs to have effective communicators to ensure everyone's on the same page. A team that can remain focused and calm under pressure will avoid miscommunication and result in a better outcome. It’s about being ‘all in’ whilst staying connected with your team and meeting at the finish line - together.  

Tip #4 – You have mentors for a reason    

Take advantage of the support you’re getting. The best bit about a hackathon is having mentors whose job is to coach, challenge and guide you and your team during the process. They’re there to listen, help you brainstorm ideas, give advice and keep your team on track. So, don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need and make use of the opportunity given to you.   

Tip #5 - Don’t forget to have a good time!  

Go in to have fun and enjoy the experience. A hackathon isn’t just about winning but also testing your ability to work together in achieving the same outcome. It's about collaboration, teamwork and acceptance of diverse opinions from teams of various disciplines and backgrounds. The best part about it is immersing yourself in the experience to build stronger and lasting relationships with the people in your team.