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02 Jul 2014, 16:20

The Story - Hackathon

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The Story - Hackathon

About three months ago, I decided it would be a good idea to run a hackathon. I suppose that I thought that it would be fun, and that I’d probably learn something, since I had never run one of these before. The truth is, I had not attended that many hackathons either. No matter, I was decided. This post discusses how the event planning got on its feet initially.

The story.

I reached out to a couple friends, who run the Smart Glass Innovators meetup with me. I had two things that I wanted to focus on, Google Glass, and the weekend before Google I/O. Then, I mentioned the idea to my friend Kevin Adler, who was instantly excited about it and started brainstorming ideas with me. The first thing that we decided was that education technology would fit as a theme, along with Glass. He thought that his company, Entangled Ventures might be a good fit as a sponsor, I agreed, and after running it by Lawrence Wong and Joseph Wei, we had our theme nailed down.

I had initially booked space at Hacker Dojo for June 20-22, but Kevin suggested moving it to the city. This was an idea that came up a lot with the meetup, plus, that’s where I/O happens, so I figured that it was probably a smart move. Kevin went to work finding an additional space, and convincing his partners at Entangled Ventures to sponsor us. Kevin found us a space, and from there we were off to the races.

People

The next step was to gather up organizers. Luckily, I know a lot of great people, who all organize events like this. I pinged everybody and created a list of organizers who were all excited about helping out. The primary organizers all provided lots of helpful input, and were instrumental in figuring out all of the details that end up making or breaking an event. Then we had some people who were more active at the event itself, giving up large chunks of time to be available for helping with either technical questions, doing food runs, and making sure that there was coffee.

We also had some good support from Galvanize, which made my life easier, by being there for almost all of the event, and helping out with logistics issues like an occasional WiFi issue, keeping the place relatively clean, and making sure there was music or AV help when we needed it.

I wrote a whole THANK YOU! post about all the people involved.

Planning

The planning was not taken lightly. I have a handful of email threads that total around 200 emails, as well as two conference calls with the organizers, and additional calls with individual organizers. We used Google Docs to organize our thoughts, flesh out a concrete plan for everything, and assign tasks. The budget was there, as was info about the space, sponsors, everything. One of my goals with the planning of this event was to be as transparent and up-front with everyone as possible. I wanted to do my best to avoid any politics, drama, or in-fighting that might have resulted from a lack of clear communication. I think the communication helped, along with the fact that, again, I was working with a great group of people.

The planning started about three months before the event. The major pieces were in place after about the first month, then over the next couple of weeks we grew the sponsorship to a place where I wasn’t constantly worrying about paying for food. Then the detailed planning took the final month and a half. The detailed planning was the most time consuming, because that’s really when all the little things needed to get done. I was unable to work on any other side-projects in that time, which was difficult for me.

The first thing to nail down was the venue. I had initially booked a space at Hacker Dojo, where we typically hold Smart Glass Innovators events. After talking it over with Kevin, Lawrence, and Joseph, we determined that San Francisco would be a better location than Mountain View. Kevin found us a space in SF, that he liked, and we jumped on it. I actually held the Hacker Dojo reservation until the Galvanize reservation was final.

I’m not entirely sure it made that the location much of a difference. While we had initially hoped to grab attention from I/O attendees, the GDG leaders summit was closer to our event, and several of our attendees were in town for that (as well as I/O). Maybe the next one will be the weekend before the GDE summit.

There were several reasons that it was so important to get this figured out first. First, obviously, we need to hold the event somewhere, and you need to be able to tell people where they’re going to go for the events. Second, we knew that people would be traveling to the area, and the sooner we could let them know about our event, the better. Finally, again, you can’t hold an event nowhere, well, you could, I guess, but it would be a different thing, and that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Once we had preliminarily held the space, I was able to make an initial announcement. This was timed to be right around the time when people were first finding out whether or not they had gotten I/O tickets, and would be making travel arrangements. It ended up really helping us gauge interest, and get people excited about the event early on.

Next up was finding sponsors. The first email that I sent to the organizers was asking them to reach out and connect with potential sponsors. They delivered, and we came up with a list of sponsors who were going to cover our food and prizes. From there, we were off to the races.

There were lots of details that we nailed down over the next few weeks. The planning continued over email, Hangouts, and Talkray group calls. I’ll share all of the details of what we decided in an upcoming post on ‘how to run a hackathon’.

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