I spent the weekend at TBD 2012 Hackathon in a coffee shop in Malmö. I know part of the organizing team, and it was nearby, so I joined in, for the feeling of the fast-paced making.
Update: If you met me at the hackathon, say hello in the comments. Or on Twitter, I’m olleolleolle. Kthxbye!
Jens describes his experience at his blog. Wired wrote an unrelated but explanatory What is a hackathon? piece, for your understanding pleasure.
This was the shape of the event:
- initial 30-second “who I am” introductions from each person in the room,
- then project pitches to recruit groups,
- then working on those projects,
- then working on those projects,
- and then one hour of demos on Sunday.
I presented myself and mentioned that I had forgot to bring my Arduinos. Turns out, that platform is as popular as its huge mindshare would suggest. I joined a team that already had an electronics gizmo (candy dispenser that you tweet to) and a software prototype running. Cheating? Perhaps. The ground rules need to be more clear on where teams start, I think. Example fix: “No pre-made teams. No pre-existing software.”
The work I did for the project was mostly software quality-related. Moved code, deleted code, renamed things, added a few tests. And I made a very small documentation website using Jekyll and the Twitter Bootstrap CSS. The project presented a how-to document, but not a fully described protocol. We sharpened the prototype.
When Sunday rolled around, and demo time at 17:00 was nearing, our project instigator opened a bottle of champagne, and took some pictures. Psyching other teams? There was a schedule change, and suddenly we could lounge until 18:00, the new demo start time.
It went well: we shared the second place with Jens’ group. The winner was a quite useful project, but it does not yet have any useful web presence.
Cheer: Highlights of the weekend
Met great locals. People were open to talking, and were helpful.
Met great people who were not like me. Graying men in business casual. Generation gap can be a challenge, but this event had no “cost of contact”.
The event had a kid-friendly atmosphere. Kids playing Minecraft, controlling a blimp, et cetera. Participating instead of irritating. Perhaps this explains best: “Dad, can you install the latest beta of the client for me?”
My team was very kind and cheerful, too. I was welcomed into a team of friends as a peer. Thanks.
The place and the logistics and the sponsors made the event feel very privileged. High-functioning.
Challenges: Stuff we need to do better
Here is a short list of stuff I know all new communities have to contend with. I want this to be a successful community, so I share my mild concerns here.
Shyness is real. Enabling shy people to interact on their own terms is hard. Try to think of that when designing a social event.
Avoid popularity contests. I would like your thoughts on how to avoid the popularity contest of choosing teams. Perhaps it is enough to describe the process of Recuiting A Team For Your Problem: “You will have to gather a team, and that’s no walk in the park. Here are the vital information you need to put out in your project pitch.” What do you think?
Don’t be a software ghetto. Actively pursue involvement by groups outside the “existing set of hackers we know”. The ghetto feeling can make the events irrelevant. Danish event Demodag is great at this.
Keep everyone in the loop. If there is a comment track, or a back-channel, make sure everyone knows about it to avoid risking missed opportunities. (I joined the #tbd2012 IRC channel, on freenode, just to see whether anyone else had. They hadn’t, so not a problem there.)
Continuity: I want more of this
I like this event, and I want this community to flourish. Sowing those seeds:
Personal prep: Keep a personal list of hackable problems and technologies, to remain prepared.
Technology radar (here one by ThoughtWorks) are personal, meaningful to a person or to a group, not to a whole culture. So, you tiny list, is useful to you.
On that note, I’m going to try and make one of those, using some mix of technologies I agree with. And, I am going to tell you about the 14th Demodag. Another day. Ciao!