How are hackathons held? And a week before PayPal BattleHack 2014 Moscow

    Over the past couple of years, I have spent a large number of hackathons as a hobby. In general, the Internet already has a lot of information about how such events are held, the impressions of the participants and the stories of the organizers are laid out. Nevertheless, during the personal agitation of developers and designers on the offer “Come, it will be cool!” I in the vast majority of cases get the questions “What is it?” and "What is there to do?" In just a week, one of the largest European hackathons, PayPal BattleHack, will start in Moscow, the information partner of which is Mail.Ru Group, and under the cut you can read about how the hackathons look from the inside from the lead.

    Who needs it all

    One of the misconceptions regarding hackathons is that it’s something “like a programming olympiad for cool programmers with 20+ years of specific experience who will be hunted by Google and Microsoft right away at the hackathon.”

    This is not true. Hackathon is primarily a party event, the main goals of which are:
    1. To interest as many people as possible in developing their own solutions. Despite the fact that many hackathon participants have solid development experience in large companies, it is at such events that they can try to do something of their own in conditions close to combat.
    2. Provide an opportunity for novice developers and experts to chat with each other. This allows the former to learn about the current state of the industry, and the latter to learn about trends among young people. Moreover, to experts this is often much more important than to the developers themselves, because in this way they can learn first-hand about what the younger generation is breathing and what difficulties they are facing.
    3. Promotion of development. There are few good developers, and they do not grow in the garden. The task of large IT companies is not only to pick up the best in the market, but also to ensure that the next generation of programmers appears in 5-10 years. Better than the current one :). And since everything is sad for developers with a higher education, we have to take a set of measures, starting with opening our own institutions and ending with hackathons.

    As you can see, the hackathons do not have the goal of "luring and hunting down the mega-developer." The entrance is open to all, and the more people try their hand, the better for all participants in the event.

    Who comes to the hackathons

    Over the last ten hackathons conducted, a good sample was collected, based on which we can draw the following conclusions:
    • Usually involved from 60 to 120 people, rarely more or less.
    • The age of the participants is evenly distributed between 16 and 50 :).
    • Developers are mostly beginners and intermediate, “bison” with 10+ years of experience, usually less than a dozen.
    • Developers and designers are always lacking. Over the past year, I have never had a situation in which there was no team that would desperately need any developer or designer. And there are many situations when authors of ideas could not find developers and strengthened other teams, instead of embodying their idea.

    How does the hackathon go

    Of course, all hackathons are different. But in general, there are many common points.

    The hackathon begins with the fact that everyone gathers in a large hall, where sponsors and organizers solemnly open the event. Then the presenter tells how everything will go, and begins one by one to invite authors of ideas to the stage who within a minute talk about their idea, as well as who they have in the team and who they need:

    After all the authors of ideas have come forward, the team building process begins. To simplify it, the presenter, as a rule, numbers the teams and during the speeches writes a short synopsis on the flipchart lists, which he then hangs around the hall. Developers, designers and their sympathizers go from sheet to sheet, find the authors of the projects they like by numbers, discuss technical details and gather in teams. Here we are interested in two points:
    1. Usually half of those who came to the hackathon are already assembled teams, but often without a programmer or designer. The second half is the authors of ideas without a team (who are often programmers or designers) and the developers and designers themselves.
    2. Primary team building is not forever. Usually, a few hours after the start of work, part of the teams is reorganized once more: there is a rethinking of ideas, and large teams fall apart, and small ones, on the contrary, merge together.

    After half an hour, having hardly gathered everyone back, the facilitator once again tells what will happen next and gives the go-ahead for the start of development. Hackathons, as a rule, are held in business centers or large, good coworking, where there is a lot of space, tables, sockets and good Wi-Fi. For example, coworking in Nagatino, where I often spend hackathons, looks like this:

    Next, the lunch usually starts on a schedule. Half an hour after lunch, the facilitator takes a powerful bunch of experts and begins to bypass the teams. They communicate with each team, answer questions and draw from them a promise to make a minimally working version by night. Then they leave the guys and the girls for five hours alone, while they code for their pleasure.

    Closer to night, the leader makes the second round of teams and looks at what they did. It turns out different: for someone everything already works, someone enthusiastically saws user authorization, for someone traditionally “there is just a little bit to complete the universal framework for everything, and then we wow!” Having assessed the degree of damage, the host tells where it makes sense to move on, and leaves the guys for the night. Typically, most hackathons are 24-hour, and most teams work all night. The organizers provide padded stools / sleeping bags so that those who have left the race can sleep, and some of the teams go home for the night:

    On the morning of the second day, the most interesting part begins, called the unpleasant English word pre-pitch - performance training. From each team, 2 participants are invited to the stage in turn, one of whom gets acquainted with the equipment for carrying out the presentation of the project, and the second is training from the stage to sell the presenter the results of his work. Having trained and received valuable recommendations, the teams are removed to refine and improve the project.

    In the middle (or at the end, as it happens) of the second day, the participants proceed to the presentation of projects. The press runs in, sponsors, everyone takes a seat in the big hall, and the teams take turns on the stage to convince the jury that what they have done is the coolest thing in the whole hackathon, and it is for them to award the prize. Laptops are connected to the projector, mobile devices are placed under a special document camera, which transfers the image of the table and the device lying on it to the projector. Usually, each team is given 3 minutes to speak and questions from the jury:

    And, finally, after the performance of all the teams, the jury heroically distributes the prizes. The organizers solemnly reward everyone, after which they arrange another unpleasant English word - afterparty.

    In just a week

    The BattleHack organizers have released the last batch of tickets (of course, free), and you still have the opportunity to participate. I can answer the questions in the comments.

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