My Anti-Hackathon 6

I have attended a data hackathon once, as a mentor. I’ve never participated in a hackathon and only briefly considered it a few times. Here are my reasons why not:

  1. I have a perfectly comfortable office with a really good desktop with a huge monitor, all kinds of technical books, a table, paper, pens, white boards – basically, anything I would need, plus a couch in case I want to take a nap, and a kitchen stocked with food, wine, beer and coffee.
  2. I like to get up late, work late and sleep late. Going without sleep holds no appeal to me.
  3. I have things to do every day – calls to return, email to answer, contracts to review, talks to give, groceries to buy – responsibilities that seldom allow a 24 to 48 hour chunk of time free.
  4. If I DO have 48 hours free at one go, I would prefer to spend it laying on a beach next to my husband, or with my children, drinking those drinks with little umbrellas in them.
  5. As an experienced programmer, the huge deal breaker for me at the last event I considered attending was the rule that you not have any code you didn’t write over the 24, 48 hours or whatever. Seriously, what a dumb idea! I understand that the purpose is to make it fair, and if it is a competition, that makes sense. However, if your purpose is to get something good done in a minimal amount of time, it only makes sense to start with the code libraries you have, including those you wrote yourself. For heaven’s sake, I have a little random number function I use over and over in the code I write. (You can see one of many, many examples here, an applet to teach long division.) The first thing I do in writing anything is to see what pieces of code I can cannibalize from other projects.

SO … here is my proposal  – the hackathon for people who have other stuff to do.

We’re going to get a team together and work on a project for a week. Maybe 5 days, maybe 7. I haven’t decided. Every day, the team will meet in our offices for one hour, either virtually via Google hangout or in person. After that hour, everyone will go back to their respective homes, offices and lives and work on it as they see fit. Some people will certainly stay in the office and work. Some will go back home and work on it.

We’re going to limit the team to 10 people. We already have two developers from our company, and one person to work on design. I expect whoever Maria hires as an intern will be involved. So that leaves a possible six more people.

My main reason for doing this is so that people who might like the idea of knocking out a prototype, but who have a life beyond hacking – say, parents of small children – could get in on it. It also might be a good hackathon for introverts. Dennis is a brilliant developer but he works a lot better left alone in the office for long stretches.

I haven’t decided if we are going to limit participation to  our employees and contractors or open it to others who are interested. If we do have people from the outside, I’m thinking we might have to give them a flat rate of $X so anything we develop remains our property – don’t get all excited though because whatever number X is won’t be a lot. This is just my first thoughts on it, and those are the sorts of details that Donna, our accountant deals with .


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