Posted on: June 1, 2015
This past weekend was the first ever DCFemTech Hack for Good. I had the pleasure of working with Cat Robinson, Beth Soderberg, and Jessie Link to make this happen. It was a really great experience and I think it went pretty well.
I learned a lot, so here are some things to think about when you’re planning a hackathon, or really, any tech event.
Part of why I believe this went so well is because we had a really engaged, hardworking (while still laid-back) team. We were able to divide and conquer, making the whole experience of planning a hackathon a lot less overwhelming. Jessie was in charge of obtaining the space and settling building logistics; Beth met with non-profits and organized projects for the attendees to work on; Cat set up the registration, obtained sponsors, kept us super organized, and handled lots of miscellaneous tasks; I mostly focused on finding sponsors, tweet-storming, and creating a landing page.
We had a few:
Attendees flying their paper airplanes after our icebreaker
A lot of hackathons can be sort of off-putting for most. I love hacking from 7am until 2am as much as the next person (not really), but that can be hard for lots of folks — most people have families, better things to do, or probably would rather spend some time enjoying the beautiful summer weather. So how could we appeal to people?
We did this mostly by creating low-pressure projects to work on. This wasn’t going to be a competition. Beth scoped out a few great projects, all with the expectation that they might not get finished but that was totally okay. She created project briefs that were absolutely doable in a short amount of time that would also provide a fun challenge for all sorts of skill sets and levels.
Another thing we were thoughtful of was time. We decided to have the hackathon on a Saturday and Sunday, but only from ~9:30am - 4pm. We also didn’t make this a contest so that attendees would feel less pressure to work late.
We also considered a few things that weren’t quite in the scope for this first one, but are definitely things we’ll consider in the future:
So, we had a pretty easy time with this. Turns out, if you plan an event under the name DCFemTech mostly women sign up. Which is fucking awesome. We never once explicitly mentioned that this was a woman only event (because it wasn’t) but I’m super pleased to say that this event was probably 90% women. And beyond gender diversity, we had many of different nationalities, experience levels, and backgrounds.
Through DCFemTech, we have built quite an amazing network of women-focused organizations and were able to reach out directly to them. We had lots of email lists to promote to and also lots of help tweeting.
Obviously not everyone is going to have this luxury, and diversity can be tough. However, if you try, it can definitely happen. If you’re planning an event, be sure to reach out to different networks. Find organizations that are outside of your usual friend group or meetup group and go through them. Find twitter accounts for orgs and ask them to tweet for you. There are lots of women and people of color who want to come to your event, you just need to reach them. And you just have to try.
Participants getting a Wordpress primer from Beth
We had an AMAZING space. We worked out of Living Social, and it was perfect. It was open, had separate rooms for different teams to focus in, and it was in a convenient location.
We ordered too much. Know that only 50% of the people who sign up are going to actually come, and order for that. Don’t forget dietary restrictions! Be sure to have vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options.
Jessie came up with the awesome idea of donating the leftover food and found that DC Central Kitchen will take left over food donations. Just call them ahead of time and see that they’ll take what you have, and you can either drop it off or I believe if you call them early enough, you can arrange a pick up. We brought all of our leftover food there which was great.
Sponsors are hard. Start looking for these early. I’m still figuring out the best ways to handle sponsorship, but I think the best way to find them is to just cold email places. Restaurants will sometimes donate food, so definitely reach out to them. Bagel and coffee shops will often offer up their leftovers at the end of the day, so you can always consider that. And of course lots of tech organizations are usually willing to sponsor.
Did I mention Living Social has an awesome office?
Take a deep breath: it is going to be okay. Ignore your nightmares of no one showing up or of sleeping through your alarm. It’s not going to happen — and it’s going to be great.
There’s still lots of stuff I’m sure we could have done better — this post is sort of a work-in-progress as I figure that out, but this is the start. I’m so happy I got a chance to help plan something like this and I had a ton of fun. We will most definitely have more hackathons in the future!
Questions? Please feel free to comment below or email me at ampalanzi at gmail.