6 Ways For Devs To Get The Most Out Of Startup Weekend

I’ve been meaning to write this post since November but with another round of Cincinnati’s Startup Weekend imminent I thought it would be timely. I attended the last Startup Weekend that was held in November and had a blast. I met some really neat people that I now consider friends and had fun creating a semi-functional site all in a weekend’s time. These are lessons that I learned during that weekend that I’m sharing so you can be prepared when you attend:

Have Business Cards!

Startup Weekend is first and foremost a great networking opportunity. If you’re social at all you will be asked for a business card about 20+ times during the event. I went in thinking that business cards were a remnant of the past that everyone made fun of but most people seemed to have them. There are a lot of people (judges, mentors, team members, etc.) who are very influential in the local Startup scene and having an opportunity to meet with those people and get your work in front of them is invaluable. Business cards are little token that will help them remember who you are later.

Don’t be heads down coding the whole time

It’s very tempting as a developer to just put on the headphones and go heads down and crank away at the product for the entire weekend but if you do you’re missing out on a lot. Like I said before Startup Weekend is first and foremost a fun networking event and if you’re not out meeting people and talking you’re not going to get as much out of it. I’m shy and have a lot of anxiety when I’m in large groups of people that I don’t know so it’s very tempting to go heads down coding and completely ignore the social aspect of it. Resist that urge and talk to people!

Your work will be condensed down to a 37 second video

I didn’t follow the above advice very well and spent large portions of the weekend heads down coding. I developed a mostly functional site that was a real time collaborate group travel planning site. You could log in with Facebook (or username/password), you could add friends to the group, you could add properties to the group and vote them up/down and make comments, and you could split payments. It was all real time and a change made by one user would be instantly reflected in everyone else’s browser. I was extremely proud of what I had created. Guess what? All that hard work and Dr Pepper got condensed down to a 37 second video for our group’s demo. I could have easily faked out the screens completely and gotten the same demo video for half of the effort. You’ll have to make a call on where your priorities should be: in actually implementing your product or getting the point of your product across even if it’s vaporware. Talk to your group about it and make a call.

Stick to tech you know

Since it’s such a condensed timeline when you are developing you should be as productive as possible. It’s not a great time to learn a completely different stack unless you’ve already spent some time ahead of time learning the basics. Your team will be looking to you for expertise on anything technical and if you’re too busy searching StackOverflow for help on syntax errors you’re probably wasting too much time.

But feel free to run small experiments

That said feel free to try out new things as long as they don’t completely kill your productivity. Have a new Javascript library you want to try out? Do it! There is no one sitting over your shoulder telling you how to do your job. There are no forms that you have to get signed in triplicate by some architecture review board just to use a new library. Have fun with it!

Meteor.js is a beast!

I had been looking at Meteor for a while before Startup Weekend but had never created anything big with it and had always wanted to. I knew enough about it that I wasn’t too worried about it killing my productivity and Meteor really shines when it comes to real time collaborative sites which is what we were creating so decided to use it. Holy crap its awesome! Despite my learning curve with it I still was more productive using it than I would have been if I had picked a framework I was more familiar with (.NET or Rails). It makes certain types of apps extremely easy to implement (especially real time stuff!). I think it’s going to be a huge deal in the Startup World in the near future especially as it approaches it’s 1.0 release.

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