How to run a hack day

Science Hack Day San Francisco

Science Hack Day San Francisco 2010

We’re considering running a half-day event for campus developers and webmaster to learn about and tinker with UCSF Profiles’ open APIs and OpenSocial development platform. Whether you call it a hack day, a hackathon, a code-a-thon, or a developer day, the idea’s the same—bringing together technologists to learn, experiment, create, and share.

So how do you run a hack day? Here are some essential hackathon to-dos from my friend Sumana Harihareswara, based on work done for the Wikimedia Foundation:

  • A public wiki page stating the date, time, and venue, and specifying that everyone is welcome. Also tell people what to bring (laptop and power cord), ask them for topic ideas, and ask them to put their names down — no obligation.
  • Outreach/publicity drive, starting at least six weeks in advance, to relevant communities. Ideally you’d get the word out to technical interest groups, local user groups, consultants and other businesses in the industry, individuals whom you want to attend, professors and colleges and universities and technical schools and trainers, email lists, and (if relevant to your audience) newspapers.
  • Some experienced developers. I don’t know the exact ratio, but perhaps a fifth of your participants should be people who have had some experience in developing Wikimedia/MediaWiki stuff, loosely defined. You need some seeds.
  • Documentation tools & some people who will take notes with them (more below).
  • Lightweight tracking. At some point, somehow, at the event, get every participant’s name and email address. That way you can follow up and continue encouraging them after the event.

Because this would be our first time sharing our UCSF Profiles APIs with a wide internal audience, we’ll also need to get our own house in order, to make sure we’re ready to share:

  • Document every API that will be presented, and ensure that it’s comprehensible to our target audience
  • Develop sample “hello world” applications, so our audience can get started quickly, and pull apart working examples
  • Finalize policies around API licensing and data reuse, so developers aren’t left in the lurch if they want to build on our work

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One thought on “How to run a hack day

  1. did you end up doing this? are you still planning it? i’ve been learning a lot about computational bio recently, and i’d love to join you if it’s still on!

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