Organising a Hack Day
Some people may think that organising a hack day is just a matter of picking a date, sending an email invite and hoping the internet holds up but actually there’s quite a a lot of things to do if you want to make a hack day fun.
Back in February 2014 I organised the inaugural Fivium Hack Day, you can read about how the event turned out in my post Fivium Hack Day in April 2014. but I didn’t give too many details about the time & effort that went into organising the event.
Since the 2014 event colleagues kept asking me when I would organise another Fivium Hack Day, but when it came to February this year I was completely swamped with work and had no time to organise anything. After a few months of putting it off however one of the students who was working with us at the time on his placement year forced me into organising a follow up.
To organise Fivium Hack Day 2015 I first set up a quick 5 minute chat with Matt Eason, my usual co-collaborator at work and all round developer/designer, and Jon Poole as he was the student who twisted my arm into organising the event this year. Together we quickly laid some plans on the first steps we needed to take and split the work up.
The main tool we used to manage the organisation between us was Trello, a free web-based project management app which we use for other things internally at Fivium.
The first blocking issue was finding a date. By the time I got around to agreeing to organise the event it was heading towards the summer which meant staff were having leave to go on holiday during most of the dates we were thinking of holding the event. At least two potential attendees who signalled they wished to attend had their weddings and stag parties during the time which also made it tricky. Thankfully we use Google Applications for Work internally at Fivium too, and all staff leave is put on Google Calendar which we used to help us find a free date of July 24-25.
Once we had a date we then had to start thinking about what projects people might want to work on. We initially thought about having a “theme” so that we could judge the projects against a common goal, but we scrapped that idea shortly after coming up with thinking it might be a bit restrictive and possibly put people off if they already had ideas in mind that didn’t fit whatever theme we came up with.
We also had to think about what prizes we might want to give away. As we’re a company mostly full of developers, and developers make up the bulk of the Hack Day attendees at Fivium, we buy most of the latest cool tech toys ourselves. Raspberry pis, fancy keyboards, decent headphones, tablets… anyone who might have wanted to win one typically already owned one, which made prize-finding harder for us!
So this year we made the main prizes a fancy mouse, as most people in the office use the stock Microsoft mice we get given when we start, and a Parrot AR 2.0 Drone, as only one person in the office owned a drone and we figured it would be a bit of fun for anyone to win.
In 2014 we had a couple of secondary prizes but we decided to increase the amount of smaller prizes this year so that more projects would have a chance of winning something, even if it was something small and silly. We ended up with 8 vaguely worded “Mystery Bonus Prizes” which would be given out by an impartial judges opinion instead rather than a public vote.
Prizes to win are one thing but a Hack Day isn’t a Hack Day without freebies. T-shirts & stickers are the typical things to pick up at any Hack Day and this wasn’t going to be any exception. Thankfully Matt has the design skills and knowledge to make these things come out well so he took charge on the design and ordering. He designed a t-shirt design that people would be willing to wear out of the house and some stickers which would make people in Fivium laugh and leave people who don’t work for Fivium confused. The t-shirts were printed for us by clothes2Order and the stickers are the StickerBooks from MOO.
Food & Drink
We also had to organise food for people to eat. Much as I hate the “Developer event? Pizza & Beer” trope, that was what we ended up getting for the Friday night. While it’s annoying that everyone assumes all developers like pizza and beer it’s fairly true and pizza is a good group hand-food. It’s also very easy to get decent pizza quickly for a lot of people near the Fivium Office, we went to Homeslice just as we did last year. Beer was available (as was cider for people who like a tasty drink) along with the choices of soft drinks that Fivium always have available for staff.
One of the key things people forget about often it seems based upon the Hack Days I’ve attended in the past is Infrastructure. People who attend will bring their own laptops but they want power, lots of it. They also want internet, fast internet. WiFi rarely works well enough at Hack Days, as was the case when I went to Hacked.io. Thankfully I still had a spare 24 port switch at the office from last year along with the other hardware we typically have at work. This year was also easier as everyone attending was an employee so they could have access to the local development LAN. Last year we had students attending who hadn’t yet become staff and they had to be segregated onto a public network to keep ourselves secure.
Once everything had been planned we updated the website we used last year with a new design and information to let people know what was going on, when and how. The schedule we posted on the site was a rough guideline but we stuck to it fairly well. Click the image of the site on the left to see it in full.
Once the website was posted we could send the invites, wait for the prizes to arrive and wait for the day to come and see what kinds of projects people would create this year.
In the next blog post I’ll give a run down on how the hack day turned out and what projects got made.