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Ask HN: Hackathon at Launch?
30 points by jasonmcalacanis 2463 days ago | hide | past | web | 18 comments | favorite
Should we host a Hackathon at LAUNCH this week?

We have the San Francisco Design Concourse from Monday until Thursday night.

Q: What makes for a good hackathon? Q: What would we need to host it?

Just semi-hosted a hackathon recently. Key elements:

    - good desks / places to sit and code
    - reliable internet
    - free dinner, midnight and/or 3am food
    - healthy food in addition to junky food
    - some like energy drinks
    - don't have people pitch their ideas
    - have an official wiki for people to post their team+idea
    - tell contestants your judging criteria before the hackathon starts 
      (and make sure judges know it)

    - keep presentations speedy, with a gong to keep people honest 
      (<5mins for final demos)

    - have a nice big central room for everyone to code in 
      (don't spread people out across the building)

    - don't require judges to give feedback after each demo

Some of these are lessons learned from the New England College Hackathon (http://nech2011.com/).

+1 for reliable internet. One dinky router is not enough to satisfy 200 hackers. I've been to half a dozen with internet issues and it destroys productivity. Even with iPhone tethering, if we had 200 tetherers the cross-interference would make it just as bad.

In addition to internet though, do not forget adequate power - electricity.

+2. At a hack day I was at recently, it took the guy next to me 10 hours to install Git (from source), Ruby (from source), download some gems and get Rails running because the bandwidth was so in and out. His bad for not coming with a properly set up machine, but still..

Good Internet can undo a lot of miseries.

A few I forgot / gleaned from http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2240226:

- if any organizers are competing, don't allow their teams to them enter

- don't let sponsors bother coders (a few brief interviews and a pitch at the beginning is OK, but asking everyone to do a survey is not the best idea.)

- explicitly have contestants outline what they actually built during the hackathon, or have judges go around and talk to people ala http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2240576. Or check git/svn logs.

- have contestants list # of team members so judges can weight this into their decision (otherwise winning is super hard for 1-person teams)

- discourage non-workers from attending and distracting coders

First, the answer is an absolute yes. Hackathon would be great. I would rather do that all night the first night than go to a party (realizing, of course I just posted this on the internet, and now look amazingly lame). I think the two most important things are internet access (which you have covered) and good working space - for example, folding tables, chairs, and powerstrips are more than fine (in fact, we can bring our own of the later), but places we can sit next to each other will be key.

And energy drinks.

@Jason - might be good to take a look at the comments/frustrations on hackathons in this thread to get some ideas as well of what people liked/didn't like.


Maybe we can put the best three on stage? Angel invest in them?

I was going to write something snarky about the bubble here, but after thinking about it, a half baked product of an all night hackathon getting angel investment is par for the course.

Definitely put the top ones on stage in front of investors, and, if you can, give every participant some kind of freebie(free pass to the conference?).

The people who participate in hackathons are exactly who you want to be putting in front of investors as much as possible.

Yeah, a free pass wouldn't be a problem for some folks. we already gave 50 developers on HN free tickets, and Mahalo's 20 developers are coming. :-)

Would be fun, although if I hacked a project together I wouldn't have much time to continue with it after the conference (I'm a founder already).

Perhaps have people choose between investment or lunch with you or one of the judges.

Sounds awesome. I don't think anything is necessary beyond internets. I'd probably participate.

Letting the best three on stage would be awesome as long as you ensure the code was written during the hackathon (people tend to cheat a bit on this I think).

I think that Launch wouldn't be complete without a hackathon. What you'll need is enough Internet connections to let everyone who wants to get in have their own, and LOTS of pizza and energy drinks. Perhaps you could persuade a local pizzeria to throw in pies for a sponshorhip. Also, the winning team should be able to present their idea on stage. Do this and you'll have a great hackathon in addition to a great event.

We have 400MBIT down and 40 mBIT up and 250 ethernet cables being run.... is that enough? :-)

Considering we are spending $100k on the internet connections, I think we can afford to pick up the pizza tab no problem. :-)

It's not a question of being able to afford it(I assume you could give everyone who attends the entire conference a pizza and still have $ left over) it's what would be most effective for the most people. If you get a local place to do it for you you'll not only save on the cost of pizzas(more profits to invest in the winner of the event) you'll give a local place some much needed attention. Plus, since a lot of people who will go to the hackathon already live in the area, they'll get quite a few new customers as well. And if that's not a win-win, I don't know what is.

I recently co-organized http://hackitaly.org and it was a great success mainly due to:

- focus on a set of predefined APIs, which key developers from the relating companies present in the room

- a shitload of prizes from those companies for the best projects (each company decided who to give the prizes to)

- free breakfast/lunch/dinner

- redbull

- huge room with tables of 6 people

- no ideas pitching, just coding

-- Reliable Internet is important: I was at SuperHappyDevHouse 42 in San Jose last weekend and the wireless was slow... really.. slow -- Energy Drinks: Rockstar and Red Bull! -- Ice Breakers: It's great to have a bunch of people there, but it would be so much better if there was a timeout in the main room and we did a simple "get to know you"

I'm in!

Be sure to provide a way for people to team up in advance since a lot of people might come alone to the conference. (team up designers w/ developers)

By the way, don't make it too long and give people enough time to rest/freshen up before the actual conference ;)

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