A Pixar Lover’s Guide to Hackathon Success – by Charmaine Lee

A hackathon champ, philanthropic developer, and Microsoft’s Top Technical Contributor to the global Microsoft Student Partner program, Charmaine Lee is no stranger to developer success. Here she compiles her top tips for building winning hackathon projects, as inspired by The Incredibles’ unsung hero, Edna Mode.


I squint my eyes as I scan her body from her tights, to her black dress with scaled sleeves that glistened under the sunlight. Her short dark hair bounced as she walked. She turns around to let me catch a glimpse of her big round glasses and a pout. It is Edna Mode exiting a hackathon.

My jaw drops as I see the gold medal wrapped around her neck, and she shows off the new drone and tablet she won. I’ve crunched some numbers and compiled a guide as to how she can manage to dominate the hackathon scene so that hopefully, you too, could become the next Edna Mode.

  1. Write down ideas

Edna spent 15 years in retirement until she was finally asked to come back and repair a superhero’s suit. Instead of stumbling back into the fashion designer world, she came back with more ideas than ever.

I generally like to keep a little notebook and pen with me at all times to jot down ideas as I come across them in my day to day life. If you aren’t an idea machine like Edna, doing this can help speed up the ideation process in a hackathon, without sacrificing the quality of those ideas. Remember, the less time you need to come up with ideas, the more time you have to hack!

edna luck prepared

  1. Know your audience

Edna refused to give Bob a cape despite him asking for one, as she knows too many past heroes who lost fights simply because their capes were trapped.

Most winning projects are well researched and displays a clear understanding of their audiences, whether it be for an API prize, or a category prize. However, with that in mind, sometimes it’s also important to find out what is needed, rather than what is wanted.

  1. Be prepared to learn

Edna’s passion drives her to create and invent what’s never been done before. Violet’s invisible suit was certainly the first of its kind and although it was tricky, she managed to deliver it!

It doesn’t matter if you’ve just taken your first programming course, or if you’ve never even seen code before. Hackathons are the perfect place to learn! If you’ve been programming all your life, challenge yourself to learn a new framework, use a different library, or integrate a new API. Success lies outside your comfort zone!

  1. Embrace diversity

If all fashion designers had to be Parisian 5’9 models, then Edna’s talent would have never seen the light of day.

Embrace diversity and eliminate unconscious bias. Do you lean towards having male teammates because they are “probably better programmers”? Take a step back and re-evaluate your biases. Choosing teams based on different backgrounds whether it be based on gender, or expertise in programming languages isn’t necessarily a bad thing because diversity provides different valuable perspectives. Hack an awesome project, but also hack the glass ceiling!

  1. Make friends and have fun!

Edna’s loyalty to the Incredibles family has gone a long way. It is evident that she is no longer just their costume designer, but rather, their friend.

Take a break from hacking and spend some time to get to know the people around you. I’ve made so many friends from around the world through hackathons, and reuniting with them at other hackathons or conferences is the best feeling ever. These, are the type of friends who share your interests and remind you of your passions. Keep your friends close, but your hackathon friends closer! <3

Edna might not have been the hero in “The Incredibles”, but she sure is my hero.

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Charmaine Lee is a Computer Science student at University of British Columbia, a Lead Microsoft Student Partner, and an international hackathon champion. Check out her projects and blogs at charmaineklee.com.

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