A developers guide to surviving hack days

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The following is written by the very capable and very likeable Darcy Laycock, a web application developer in Perth specialising in Ruby on Rails development. By day he attends the University of Western Australia as well as working for a local start up & by night he builds cool stuff. He has a great blog (and occasionally writes elsewhere – like here!), usually writes open-source code and quite often tweet his thoughts.

He also likes ordering fresh beans 4kg at a time. Enjoy the following piece.

 

With Startup Weekend Perth right around the corner, I wanted to take some time to share some of lessons that I’ve learnt as a developer when it comes to staying happy and productive in a hack-day style environments. Over the past several years I not only have taken part in and helped organise Rails Rumble but I’ve taken part in the first Music Hack Day Sydney and spent many a overnight period hacking away at code.

What follows are the six most important lessons that I’ve found are important when it comes to getting stuff done – Whilst Startup Weekend isn’t like most traditional hack days, it shares many familiar traits that I believe make the same rules apply well.

  • Drink lots of water

Water is your friend. By drink a lot of water, I suggest keeping a large bottle of water next to you at all times over the weekend. Keeping hydrated is common sense but when you’re A) incredibly focused and B) surrounded by other drinks such as Red Bull and Coffee, it’s important to remember to consume lots of water to balance things out.

I’ve also found that over extended periods of time, drinking water is more effective at keeping me awake and alert than coffee is – Bart Simpson’s old trick applies just as well to keeping you awake.

  • Limit your caffeine intake

In other words, don’t feel the need to over do it since just because it’s there. Know your limits – Too much caffeine will make you jumpy, distract you more than it well help and, if you don’t balance it, make you feel horrible.

Even worse, when it does come time to rest – Caffeine will work against you (even more so when it comes to waking up).

  • Sleep is essential

Resist the temptation to hack overnight. Taking some time off to sleep (and not just nap – I mean, get a proper normal nights sleep) not only will keep you alert and recharge you so you don’t spend the rest of the day drained but is the best solution when you’ve hit a blocker in your progress.

  • Stay Active

Take a break on a regular basis. Get up, walk around and talk to people. Give your mind a break and get your body moving.

Sitting around all day is neither healthy or natural, and just the act of getting up for a break helps break patterns that end up in a rut.

  • Avoid getting stuck

If you find yourself spending more than 20 minutes on a small problem, stop and ask someone for help. Stuck with particular bit of code and making no useful progress? Get a cup of water, go for a walk around or do something to switch context, if only for a few minutes.

This is especially true when it comes to the bigger challenges – The act of taking a break is more often than not enough of a catalyst to help solve the hardest of problems.

  • Most importantly, have fun.

Why do it if you’re not going to enjoy yourself?

I hope taking all of the above into heed, you’ll have a heck of weekend – and not feel like you’ve been working all weekend but rather having fun – once Startup Weekend is over.