HackCC's organizers explain how they threw the first community college hackathon in Santa Monica

I saw down with Josh, Casey, and Sidney, organizers of HackCC, to talk about hackathon planning, marketing, logistics, and their most uncertain moments as organizers.  We talk about lessons learned, frustrations, and ultimately the plan for next year.   (Organizer Ahmed was not present)

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0:00 - Organizers intro, general shooting of the breeze -

3:20 Overview of the event

  • HackCC is first community college hackathon - special circumstances

  • Intentionally wanted a smaller scale event

  • Targeting an underserved group - many attendees has never heard of a hackathon before

  • Organizer Ahmed basically spammed facebook, rest of organizers talked in person at different schools to invite

6:40 - promotion and attendence

  • Worst case scenario was being ignored when inviting, not really rejections

  • In person visits were the schools physically closest to Santa Monica

  • Had an ambassador program - people are other schools who were in charge of attracting attendees

  • Furthest attendees came from Sacramento and Canada

  • Power law distribution effects for ambassadors?

  • It helped to start promoting early

  • At one point HackCC orgs got nervous about oversubscription and stopped promoting - next time they would just oversubscribe the event

10:45 - Why throw a hackathon?

  • Casey attended HackTech and wondered why there were no community college hackathons.  At LAhacks met organizer Ahmed at science fair demos, connected over being a CC student

  • Decided around 6 months ago to start planning

  • Josh - didn’t even know what a hackathon was, Sidney had to explain

  • The term hackathon wasn’t even clear to Josh at first prior to Sidney’s explanation

  • Sidney found out about hackathons by volunteering at LAHacks (biggest hackathons ever) picking up garbage

  • Volunteered at around 4AM on Sunday morning - crunch time

  • John gets way too excited when he realized that he met organizer Casey at HackTech one year earlier, remembered his quadcopter drone project

  • organizer Ahmed cares a lot about hackathons, kept energy level high the whole time

19:20 - Hardest part of being an organizer?

  • Casey - Sponsors

  • Josh - Balancing sponsors and attendees

  • Sidney - Not sure.  But learning how to work together

  • Disputes are tie broken by Josh

  • There is no reason why organizers all make the same mistakes

  • 21:45 - Biggest problem for HackCC was - how do you talk to sponsors and what to they want?

  • Varadh from LAHacks helped a lot

  • Varadh helped HackCC figure out sponsorship tiers by simplification

  • Original sponsorship packet was 6 pages long, then they condensed

  • “First” was the most effective excellent selling point :)

  • Casey - depends on sponsor - initially we thought it was advertising, but eventually discovered that sponsors case most about being there in person

  • Sidney - at one point the balance of power shifted - sponsored wanted to get what we have versus we are trying to get what they have

  • Josh - main thing is to keep it simple.  We found sponsors by seeing who was recruiting, finding their email, and sending an email.  Had a spreadsheet of hundreds

  • The outreach template kept changing with new info and honestly just changing your mind

  • GA and Twilio both offered their branding to kick things off by getting mentors and just putting their logo behind the event

  • Key point - just get your first one

  • Yo and Versal were very quick to help out

27:50 Choosing the Venue / Setup / etc

  • MLH sanctioning was easy.  Their main value was during the event.  They provided Justin Brezhnev who came with the hardware lab and did closing speech.

  • Between July and August 2014 the plan completely changed...

  • Initially they thought SMC would handle money, provide the venue, and help w fundraising

  • “They screwed us over and kept us waiting for over 1 month”

  • Partnerships can backfire, you want control.

  • Sidney “forget about anyone else’s promises, do everything you possibly can yourself”

  • Initially the plan was LA Reef - it has huge capacity but not great Wifi, and adding wifi would cost $15k

  • CrossCamp.us was the eventual choice, and it turned out great.  Benefit of CC was their prior experience.

  • In negotiating, they never confirmed they were going to definitely go with them before putting a deposit down.

  • “Most comfortable hackathon I’ve ever been to”  see pic of CrossCampus

  • Beginners & gender balance - no concrete numbers, estimated 70% beginners

  • On-ramp program for 2015?  It’s a way to teach beginners how to code for first time and feed directly into your event.  (the week before)

41:20  - The Hacks

  • Winner - “Node” (challengepost repo is private, sorry) - an IoT solution to warn you about flooding damage

  • Judging panel - Public Vote, Judging Panel, and Sponsors all had a say

  • “The Mob, Elected Officials, and Rich people all had their say”

45:00 - Organizer stuff

  • Slept sparsely - Josh slept at home, Sidney crashed in a chair.  Probably 4-6 hours of sleep total over the 36 hour period

  • 180 attendees - there was a sleeping area in the boardroom

  • The further you travel the more cranky you get about sleeping?

  • Food -

    • Coffee bean went all out on pastries

    • Saturday had to hit up Ralphs 3-4 times

    • Provided healthy stuff

    • Snackathon snackers

    • Lots of Pizza - 100 pizzas on Saturday

51:20 - API’s an Products you like

  • Casey likes Arduinos, Leapmotion, Myo, Oculus, Rasperi Pi, etc

  • Winners brought their hardware

  • Hardware hacking with soldering can be an issue with liabilities

  • Drones - Casey loves drones and has specialized

  • At HackTech Casey flew the drone inside, At LAHacks gave it gesture control (and won leap motion prize), CalHacks gave the drone mind control

Last words - Contacts