How to run a hackathon – case of the record breaking HackYeah
It goes without saying that coordinating an event for thousands of people demands a great deal of determination and skills. The struggle of passing information immediately to all attendees is real. And the number of situations that has to be done effectively and quickly is even more real. Organizers of HackYeah 2017 know that when dealing with such crowds one needs to seek unconventional solutions! Today, they want to unveil their secret of how to successfully manage two thousand participants at an IT event!
There are times when even the most meticulously planned events surprise their organizers and put them to the test. This is why being an event manager is named one of the most stressful jobs. Luckily, there are ways to make the life of an event organizer much easier. There are solutions that can help to deal with unexpected chains of events and turn the event into a success.
Sometimes, especially when a large audience participates in an event, even with the best management, struggles of communication occur. Then the key to success is not to give in but use all the available tools and methods to deliver the best experiences for all attendees who came to enjoy the event.
The amount and variety of the attendees’ requests and questions was the main struggle for our guest – Marta Kowalska, organizer of HackYeah. The event, which gathered about two thousand participants required a huge amount of logical thinking and smart solutions. We talked with Marta about the process of managing one of the biggest stationary hackathons and the methods they used to make it a big success.
Marta Kowalska – Project Manager at Proidea. She coordinates the CONfindence Conference and HackYeah – the biggest stationary hackathon in Europe. Marta studied at the University of Regensburg, University of Wyoming Fort Lewis College, and the University of Wroclaw. Since 2016, she works on bringing event ideas to life and turning them into successful projects step by step with a team of great people.
HackYeah is the biggest stationary hackathon in Europe. The event, which lasts 24 hours, gathers a large number of programmers and developers, and engages them in collaborative computer programming. It’s not only about hacking – it’s about creating things and solutions related to common problems.
Eventory: Hello Marta! Thank you for joining us today to talk about your latest event – HackYeah 2017. Could you introduce the event??
Marta Kowalska: HackYeah is the biggest stationary hackathon in Europe. We wanted to create something that was never done before. Typically, hackathons gather about a hundred, sometimes slightly more participants – we aimed higher. The result of our work is HackYeah. A meeting of developers and people associated with the IT industry. It took place at Tauron Arena in Cracow. We knew that it’ll be a challenge to find a place to fit in about two thousand people, so we really needed a unique venue.
HackYeah, the programming part, lasted for 24 hours on the 28th and 29th of October. Of course, in general, the event was longer – there was an opening part, registration and time needed to evaluate the participants’ projects. Ultimately, it lasted about 30 hours. Interestingly, it was a weekend event, what sometimes makes it hard to attract attendees to participate in it. Nevertheless, we managed to do so.
Okay, but what it was all about. We wanted to bring people closer to current problems and look for solutions. This is why, we prepared 3 open categories for our participants – sports, nature and social – in a broad sense. We invited mentors who helped with the mentioned problems. Those were people from organizations such as Szlachetna Paczka or UNICEF, that are connected with our categories and know the problems.
The core of the event was 24-hour long work on the solutions to problems that could apply to the categories of this hackathon. In addition, our partners prepared their own tasks, which created a separate category with a separate prize.
Eventory: I see that you managed to coordinate and bring together different categories, so tell me something about the main goal of the event.
Marta Kowalska: Our main purpose was to show how many world-class developers we have here in Poland. Showing the potential and the strength of this industry was our first goal. Then, we wanted to prove that we’re able to integrate and gather in one time and place in order to make a great event. I think I can say that both goals were achieved and the fact that all profits from the tickets were handed over to charity made the whole initiative even more satisfying!
Eventory: Definitely! It’s amazing how you managed to combine the size and purpose of the event with a noble goal. Not only every category of the competition contributed to solving a problem, but also the ticket incomes were destined for charity purposes. It must have encouraged the participants to pay the entrance fee if they knew how this sum would be spent, right?
Marta Kowalska: Yes, all the more that the whole sum is allocated to funding programming courses for children from orphanages. Everything is somehow meshed together because after all, we are raising the next generations of HackYeah attendees!
Eventory: Makes sense! And tell me, do you think you achieved set goals?
Marta Kowalska: Looking at our main goal which was to create an event for developers, gathering them all in one place to spend a nice and creative time together, to create amazing solutions – it all went brilliantly well. We definitely achieved what we aimed for. When it comes to organizational aspects, this event was first of its kind so naturally, there were a couple of things that didn’t go as well as we hoped. Now, when we learned our mistakes we’re looking forward to improving those aspects with the next edition.
Eventory: And what about the things that helped you with achieving this goal?
Marta Kowalska: I don’t mean to sound cheesy, but it was the people. We could create the most appealing event, invest all the money we have in prizes, but let’s be honest that wouldn’t be enough to attract people from all over the country and neighboring countries to meet with us. The aura wasn’t working in our favor – it was late October, late autumn, it was almost winter outside – it wasn’t easy to convince attendees to come and spend the weekend with us, so the people were the true reason of our success.
Creating this whole amazing community engaged in HackYeah let us make the event work so good. Without them and their determination, it could have been a big failure despite all our efforts and marketing actions.
Eventory: Speaking of people. How did you manage such a big audience during the event, organization-wise? Were there some special methods or tools that helped you with this?
Marta Kowalska: To be honest, this is the part where Eventory steps in. With all of the conferences and events, we organized the situation was more predictable. With HackYeah that wasn’t the case.
We knew what the event will look like – we had the agenda set, when its certain points start, we knew when to do what and so on. What amazed us though was the multitude of questions, requests and information that we, as organizers, needed to pass to the participants. This need to stay in constant communication with the attendees really surprised us!
Because of this, despite the fact that Eventory has many features, such as an agenda creator and so on, that help organizers, for us the crucial thing was to be able to communicate with attendees. On every possible level. For example, we try not to use push notifications during our events but it became essential here. Thanks to Eventory’s feature we could, with one simple message, inform the participants about ongoing food distribution or agenda changes. It was a massive help for us as organizers!
The same applies to the communication between attendees. To attend our hackathon it wasn’t obligatory to come with your own team – that wasn’t the point. Everyone could simply pack one’s things up, grab a laptop and find a team later, at HackYeah. Once again, this process of matching teams was based on the communication platform that Eventory provided. Every person arriving at the hackathon logged in and needed to choose appropriate tags like “looking for a team” and “I work in Java”. This way, attendees could find others without a team or join already existing ones.
As you see, while Eventory has plenty of functions the whole communication support, it provided, was crucial to manage such a mass of people.
Eventory: It’s brilliant that attendees could be in constant contact with you, organizers! Also, it’s a great value of this hackathon that it gives lone programmers a chance to participate in this competition.
Marta Kowalska: You can say that it’s our premise that you don’t necessarily have to have a team to join the event. Just come to us and let us help you find a team to work with. It’s true that it’s hard to track down all of those people from the crowd, that’s why a tool that can enable us to do so is a must-have.
Eventory: I’m glad to hear that our platform was such a help for you. Is there something you’re particularly proud of when it comes to this edition of HackYeah?
Marta Kowalska: Well, I have to come back to what I said before – the people. The community that formed around HackYeah is something I’m the most proud of. I’m very happy about how those people worked and the projects that are continued now, after the event. I know, that the ideas prepared for the non-governmental organizations are carried on and they are still being developed.
It’s because some of our partners use HackYeah to find solutions to their own problems. For example, this year, in the Social category, we had Szlachetna Paczka. They’ve found developers who had an idea on how to deal with the issue Szlachetna Paczka came with and they won their category! Obviously, 24 hours are not enough to prepare a finished project, but you can come up with an idea and work it through in a fun atmosphere!
Eventory: Yes, it must be satisfying to see the real effect of just 24 hours of work and observe how new contacts evolve. By the way, we had the pleasure to hear about the event from its participants, our friends, so we’re glad we can now learn how organizers see it.
Marta Kowalska: I’m sure that your friends had some remarks and their own favorite parts of the event. They probably could notice some of our mistakes. We’re aware of this and can’t wait to improve our work! What is great though, is the fact that you, a person who didn’t attend the event itself, heard of it. That means that the word about HackYeah is spreading and I think that’s amazing news for us.
Eventory: There’s no doubt that HackYeah is talked about! I am sure that during this year’s second edition there will be a strong representation of last year’s participants that enjoyed the event and decided to come back.
Marta Kowalska: Exactly! The registration for the next edition started last week and almost 90% of people who signed up are our last year’s participants!
Eventory: Well, that’s probably the best type of feedback you can get, am I right?
Marta Kowalska: I totally agree. As I said, we managed to create a whole HackYeah community last year. At this point, those people already became our ambassadors who share the idea and the awareness of the event all around. They invite people to join the event on social media platforms or at meetups. It’s incredible that something like this came to existence from a mere 24 hours of the event!
Eventory: Since you mentioned what is happening now – what can we expect from this year’s edition of HackYeah?
Marta Kowalska: The scale of the event will be much bigger. Our goal is to organize the biggest stationary hackathon in the world – not just in Europe. We aim at 2500 of attendees, actively programming.
Also, we already prepared an increased pool of prizes. It’s already worth more than the previous one, its value is estimated at about 250 000!
Eventory: Wow, that’s impressive!
Marta Kowalska: And let me mention that we’re still working on it! The cash prizes are provided not only by organizers but also partners and we still have a couple of those to confirm.
Also, with the upcoming edition, we want to expand the whole event. I’m not sure if we can call it a festival, but surely we want to make it something more than just a hackathon. It’s going to be a big event for the whole IT industry with night talks, partner areas, community areas and so on. We want to organize a conference with night talks that would last till the late night hours.
As you can see, we are creating the same event but on a larger scale, even better prepared and, let’s hope, even more, enjoyable than last year.
Eventory: What about the venue? Can you reveal some details?
Marta Kowalska: This year’s edition will take place in Global EXPO – exhibition and congress center, which formerly was an FSO car factory. Obviously, it will be a much bigger space than Tauron Arena, with a total area of 60 000 m2 and 17 600 m2 of a conference room. We’re sure that it will have no problems to fit in our crowd of programmers, sponsors, partners, and mentors!
Eventory: It will have to! Is there anything more you want to say to invite our readers to HackYeah?
Marta Kowalska: If you want to spend an amazing weekend, meet thousands of brilliant people, see if you can deal with solving problems and just have some real, creative fun – join us. We strive to make HackYeah such an event!
Eventory: And you’re surely on a good way to do so! Thank you for your time, Marta!
The communication during the event is a complex process that can be easily disturbed, especially when the event is attended by thousands of people. Keeping the whole communication process efficient and easy can increase your audience satisfaction and have a good impact on the event perception in the attendees’ minds. Thus it’s vital to, as our guest did, invest in the tool that can provide invaluable help in every aspect of the organizational work. Save yourself the stress of unpredictable failure and make sure that during the next event, you organize, you have Eventory to support you!