Last week I wrote about our experience over at AuthorityLabs and the Hollywood Hack Day and it got me thinking about the experience vs our trips to regional conferences. We typically go to a handful of regional Ruby and Mongo conferences a year and do about 1-2 hack-a-thons a year. Next year will be different. We will be attending more hack-a-thons and fewer regional conferences.
At a conference you go to a day’s worth of content which 1 or 2 sessions really excites you, the rest of the fun and information comes from the Hallway sessions and after hours drinkups/hack events. Sure you probably even write some sort of little app during those less than inspiring filler sessions.
At most hack-a-thons you can bring your team and idea already flushed out, just no existing code. While winning is always nice don’t go to win, go to bond and learn. What you will get from the event that you won’t get from a conference is working as a team towards and shared goal with a deadline and the experience of presenting to a crowd of peers.
I have learned a few other things from attending these hack events. If you are going to experiment with a new technology take some time before hand to get familiar with it, don’t let it be what keeps you from benig able to produce a working prototype. Also make sure your idea is modular and don’t be afraid to change direction once you start. Grand ideas are exciting but remember your timeframe. If you take a big idea make sure it is broken down into smaller deliverables this way if you don’t finish the whole thing you will still have something to deliver and show at the end of the event.
If you are like most developers I know, writing code is fun! Creating new apps and solving problems is fun! And learning something by actually doing it works best and is fun! So here is my proposal to you. Instead of going to that next conference find a hack-a-thon and take your team.