HackGT organizer Shehmeer Jiwani threw a megahack on his first try

I got on the phone with Shehmeer of HackGT's organizing team.  I was familiar with their event back in 2013 (it went down in September 2014) because they pitched me for sponsorship at the seed accelerator where I worked ... over 11 months in advance of their event.  The HackGT team attracting over 1000 students to their event, ran volunteering seamlessly, and event had healthy snacks, winning the nickname SnackGT.  Shemeer is a triple threat who can throw events, communicate in a world class fashion (take notes!), produce electronic music, and more.  

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[Shownotes coming soon!]

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

How Comedy Hack Day threw a perfect themed hackathon

I flipped on the mic after attending Comedy Hack Day's inaugural Los Angeles event.  This is my first solo episode.  

Organizers and Sponsors can learn a lot from CHD.  Their themed hackathon game is on point.  They used native advertising principles in their sponsorship talks.  Plus, the hack demos were hilarious.

Listen on Sound Cloud -->

0:00 - 3 reasons you should care about Comedy Hack Day

  • CHD was fun

  • Sponsors at comedy hack day provide and get value using the principles of “native advertising" 

  • CHD does a great job involving non-hackers into their event

1:45 Overview of the event:  

4:16 Overview of the apps

  • Kill Fuck Prez

    • play on kill shag marry

    • (deep dive description of the app at ~7:40)

    • reminds me of card against humanity

  • Flosst

    • connected social gamified social app

  • Youtube Shrink

    • analyzes your mental disorder is based on your smile

  • Die-o-meter

    • what cause of death is most likely?

    • (deep dive description at ~8:55)

    • judges interaction with the comedian presenter was hilarious

  • Shit Talk

    • social pooping chat

  • Scavenge

    • ambiguously defined topic picture scavenger hunt

  • Me the Internet

    • inputs your name into news headlines and swaps in your pictures

9:45 What makes comedy hack day work?

  • Pitches were very polished

  • Comedians and judges interactions was funny

  • Improv elements

  • Turned cliche hackathon judging questions into jokes

  • Prizes

    • Runner up prize - “I want to put this on my wife’s computer” - by Troy Carter - awarded to Me The Internet

    • 2nd place - Youtube Shrink

    • 1st place - Shit Talk

Most important section! -->

13:25 - How comedy hack day used native advertising to get their sponsors involved

  • Sponsors at CHD

  • What is native advertising?

  • Who uses native advertising in the tech world?

  • 15:00 - Mashery’s native ad -

    • n/a, most of the demo attendees (audience members) were nontechnical.  

  • 16:00 - Lagunitas’s native advertising -  “API” demo

    • Get request - Confirm get request - Pop - Chug (units are in seconds) - Post

  • 17:45 - MailChimp’s native ad - “How (not to) Send an Email”

    • To: basically everyone at the company, plus optionally anyone you know

    • CC: “cover your ass button” - address anyone who can limit your blamabilty

    • BCC: “the snitch button”

    • Subject: [something completely misleading]

    • Body:  [long, rambling, action items buried deep in paragraph 7 and 8]

    • Signature: [something that makes you seem important]

    • Send button: [something you will work up courage to press then immediately regret]

  • 19:50 - Squarespace

    • http://againstpeopleagainstchd.squarespace.com/ - Fake Westboro Baptist Picket

      • signs include “God hates apps,” “Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve Jobs”, “Burn in HTML,” “God can see your browsing history.”

    • direct link to squarespace from that microsite

  • 20:45 - Judges at Comedy Hack Day

    • Combo of comedians, youtube influencers, and talent management folks

    • Judges asking questions with the intention of making comedy

    • Not the “gotcha” questions, but calibrated for laughs

    • 22:00 -Felicia Day

      • youtube influencer

      • legitimately hilarious

    • 22:15 - Rhett and Link

      • youtube influencer

      • deadpan humor specialist

    • 22:40 - Troy Carter - investor and super-talent manager

      • Talent Managment - worked with rappers, and recently John Legend and Lady Gaga

      • Also an investor now

      • (Based on his AngelList) Somehow invested in both Uber & Lyft, also Misfit wearables

24:45 - Wrapping up

  • Organizers - check out CHD as the prototypical themed hackathon - they were 100% congruent with their mission

  • Sponsors - try to involve yourself natively into the proceedings, and consider creative ways to get involved

  • Organizers - there are a variety of formats that you can throw, not just collaborative and competitive.  

Contact me:  twitter.com/jnconkle.  Find my email on the blog hackathon.posthaven.com.

If you are from Mailchimp, Mashery, Squarespace, or CHD - I want to interview you!

Matt Haines of Electric Imp runs a community of hardware hackers

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I got on Skype with Matt Haines, who runs the community for Electric Imp.  Electric Imp was founded in 2011 and is a heavyweight innovator in the Internet of Things.  Matt started as a software developer in Regina, Saskatchewan (Canada) and evolved into a hardware hacker-turned developer evangelist.   

This is a great interview because we talk about the unique challenges of hardware hacking and the future of education, and how hackathons fit.  


  • Brief overview of Matt’s background

    • Matt studied CS in University

    • Started a Hackerspace called CrashBang labs (in Saskatchewan, Canada) which is what eventually led to joining Electric Imp

    • David Gherhardt - was a professor who Matt knew, and between them they rounded up 10 people

  • Brief overview of your Electric Imp

    • The Imp is a tool to build internet connected hardware

    • Internet of Things (IoT) is the trend of products which aren’t traditionally connected coming online via wireless and starting to communicate with other technologies and services

    • Classic example is the “connected fridge” (spoof link :)

    • Electric Imp was founded May 2011 and now powers 15-20 established products (including GE, Quirky, and Budweiser) use Electric Imp’s platform.

    • Electric Imp’s core business is B2B, selling to large companies who manufacture connected products.  Also serves the hobbyist market.

  • What does Matt do at Electric Imp?

    • Electric Imp doesn’t have a dedicated evangelist, focus right now for Matt is community

    • In short, Matt’s role is to enable other developers

      • managing support for active devs

      • re-write the documentation to be clearer and more example focused

  • How to balance supporting hardcore developers versus people who are just getting started?

    • It’s tricky.  You need to watch the pain points, where people get stuck when you are out at events.

    • For beginners, the documentation is aimed at getting started story

    • Electric Imp has brought on a technical writer to serve the more advanced use cases

    • Electric Imp has a complicated product, so they do a lot of interaction inside a forum - their developer community is 15,000

    • Forum is powerful because it can inspire what to do next as a company

    • Mentioned - HeavyBit video library

  • What did you work on before you became a dev evangelist?

    • It was a natural transition for Matt because he had roles in both software and project management

    • He enjoyed acting as a bridge between really technical people and nontechnical users.  

    • Also really enjoys going to hackathons.

    • Initially was just a fan of the product - Matt started at Electric Imp after buying one from SparkFun - so Matt as initially a member of the Electric Imp community

    • had gone to tons of hackathons in Saskatchewan - emphasis on open data initiatives

  • What is an API or product (not your own) that you love?

  • What is your favorite hackathon format?  

    • Competitive - pitch for big prizes (Salesforce, Disrupt, AT&T)

    • Collaborative - science fair expos, finalists demo (MLH)

    • Themed - (Space Apps) - talked about open data companies

    • Matt’s Least favorite type of hackathon are the hypercompetitive ones- Salesforce/Angelhack, etc are very exclusionary in who they attract and who can participate.  

    • A huge problem with competitive events is that they focus too much on product, not enough on process.  

    • As a company it’s better to be involved in a collaborative or themed hackathons - more opportunities to mentor and interact with participants.  

  • How can you measure the benefits you’re getting from a hackathon?

    • Electric Imp has very different goals than most software companies who sponsor

    • Hardware has much higher upfront cost

    • For that reason, Electric Imp focuses on recruiting interns/new hires, debugging their own product and docs, and to see where things go wrong with your product

  • Tell me about a great event you’ve been to in the past year

    • MLH hackathons - trend is that they are getting better.  Organizers are getting more skilled at logistics.  And importantly, organizers are figuring out how to handle hardware hacking versus a big focus on software

  • What are some challenges specifically for hardware hacks?

  • How to make hackathons better

  • Throw a hackathon vs sponsor one - Which choice is better for a company who wants to get involved?

    • Depends on the outcome you are looking for - think about why you would be doing either

    • Sponsoring is probably better for evangelism

    • Your own hackathons, if you do one, should be based around a specific theme or provider (to illustrate the power of two techs combined) - for example, Electric Imp has done collaborations with Firebase and Pubnub

    • How to choose another sponsorship - partnerships where you are trying to build something for their technology stack, balancing with how it will benefit our users and community

  • Do you think hackathons will play a role in the future of education?

    • MLH hackathons - CS doesn’t teach you how to be a software developer, it teaches you how the systems work

    • Hackathons can sit in the middle between theoretical learning and practical learning, between University and Code Schools

    • To maximize the benefit of hackathons you probably should already be an autodidact

    • A huge benefit is being able to interact with likeminded folks outside of the classroom

    • Matt enjoyed his work/study degree, found working inside of companies and getting mentors to be highly useful

  • Where do the you see the dev evangelism scene evolving to?

    • Steve Ballmer chanting developers on stage (in 2006)

    • In 2009 there was a big adoption by Twilio and SendGrid

    • At Evangelism events there is always a really similar conversation happening - what should you be doing, tracking, etc

    • JNC sophisticated wild ass guess (SWAG) - Possibly the most powerful way to measure evangelism reach is how many shirts you’ve passed out

    • Electric Imp isn’t necessarily aimed at driving sales via Evangelism, it’s about making the product better and learning

  • Anything (product, API, idea) you want to plug?

    • Electric Imp is headed to RobotsConf this weekend - same orgs as NodeBots and JSConf

    • There is an open source hardware robot kit called SumoBot - you can send CAD files to a Maker Space - has different components and is as easy as legos to build.  Just need to control the servos. People are doing it with Arduinos, we replace it with electric imp

    • TVBeGone - turns off TV’s

  • Is there anything I forgot to ask that I should have?

    • Nope!  Follow Matt on Social.

    • @BeardedInventer - Twitter

    • @ElectricImp on twitter

Ossama Alami from Firebase has a community of 125,000 software developers

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I got on Skype for a chat with Ossama Alami, who heads up developer advocacy at Firebase.  Firebase is a realtime backend service which is very popular at hackathons.  Over 125,000 developers worldwide use Firebase, which is now an independent team within after an October 2014 acquisition.  


  • Brief overview of Ossama’s background

    • Ossama’s first company was acquired by Accenture - he took his tech + consulting background to developer relations at Google (Ads, Geo, Commerce, and Glass)

    • Transitioned over to Firebase from Google, becoming the VP of Developer Happiness

    • Ossama met the Firebase team via introduction by mutual acquaintances, clicked with James and Andrew the two founders and the rest of the team

  • Brief overview of Firebase

    • Firebase’s API lets you store and synch data in realtime

    • Firebase allows you to build powerful and collaborative tools only using front-end code.

    • Firebase shines with real-time applications - , building a realtime infra (for chat or  is hard, but Firebase lets you create it quickly

    • Firebase makes it easier to add collaboration or chat

    • Store and synch data in realtime (with just front-end code)

    • Notable implementations of Firebase -

    • Firebase, like other developer tools, allows smaller teams to tackle bigger problems

  • What was the genesis of Firebase?

    • Firebase is a YC company

    • Founders of Firebase started working on Firebase in 2011 and launched first version in early 2012

  • What are the unique challenges of developer relations?

    • Developer Tools are hard to build because it’s hard to convince people to build on top of your tech if you are a startup

    • Adding to difficulty of creating a developer tool - software developers are very savvy and have highly varied requirements in their use of a tool

    • Developer Relations is a two-way street because you need to balance education and taking feedback from the outside to your engineer team

    • Google prefers the term Developer Advocate, to acknowledge their role in representing the developer community’s needs to the teams who are shipping product

    • The power of involvement in the community and events is to close the feedback loop, making your product better

  • Before Ossama joined Firebase in April 2014, what was their developer advocate program like?

    • Most of the outreach was Jame’s responsibility

    • Ossama came on to push the gas pedal and scale up a developer relations team

    • As of November 2014, Firebase has 125,000 developers using their technology.

  • More about evangelism

    • Advocacy humanizes the product which helps with growth

    • If a company does evangelism, it’s clear that they are investing in the future of the product, it’s safe to build on top of their technology

    • It’s hard to define what your typical day looks like - the work is varied

      • events - speaking, and hackathons

      • engineering - documentation and developer samples engineering tasks

      • support - on stackoverflow and inbound via email

      • product management - developer and API feedback

  • What is an API or product (not your own) that you love?

  • How can you use GitHub or StackOverflow data to get insights into how to improve Firebase?

    • Aggregate data can tell you what technologies are popular or trending up, which can help you make educated decisions for which features or open source initiatives to prioritize

    • Recurring StackOverflow questions about your software point towards where your documentation is weak

  • Is it valuable to partner with other developer tools companies?

    • Yes under the right circumstances

    • Electric Imp partnership was great because of the synergy between two tools to solve complicated problems

    • EI was especially interesting because many Internet of Things (IoT) apps need realtime signalling.

    • Firebase also has a partnership with Zapier and Pebble

  • Electric Imp partnership -

    • great way to solve a specific problem and expose yourself to a bigger set

    • it was a natural tech fit … a lot of IoT products NEED realtime signalling

    • partnership also with Firebase + other services like Zapier, Pebble,

  • What is your favorite hackathon format?  

    • Competitive - pitch for big prizes (Salesforce, Disrupt, AT&T)

    • Collaborative - science fair expos, finalists demo (MLH)

    • Themed - (Space Apps)

    • All have their place - biggest fan of themed hackathons.  

    • Also likes Competitive but prefers collaborative.  Giant prizes are trying to bend hackathons into something they don’t want to be

    • Themed hackathons - another benefit is having critical mass of the right stakeholders in one place

  • Why do people try to run hackathons for selfish reasons (free labor?)

    • It doesn’t really make sense - developers aren’t stupid

    • A developer’s time is so valuable that prizes seem exploitive.

    • Avoid hackathons that are all about the company which is throwing it

    • well-run hackathons are not cheap from a real cost and in terms of human capital (people hours) - net net it’s not productive to run a hackathon just to get one idea built

  • Throw a hackathon vs sponsor one - Which choice is better for a company who wants to get involved?

    • It’s preferable to participate in the hackathon scene before doing your own

    • Holding a hackathon is a big investment

    • If you have new tech it’ll be hard to draw attendees based on your brand - especially because no one has experience using your stuff

    • Now if you are a more well known brand, it may be attractive to give developers early access to your tech specifically at your event to get ready for a big launch

  • Anything (product, API, idea) you want to plug?

  • Is there anything I forgot to ask that I should have?

    • Firebase is hiring!  

    • Ossama wants you to apply to be part of the Developer Advocacy team

    • Firebase has joined Google, but remains an independent team within Google Cloud.  

Apply to work with Ossama at firebase.com/jobs

How Tim Falls is building community from scratch at Keen.io

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Tim Falls is an evangelist at Keen.io, formerly employee #6 at SendGrid which is well-known for their great evangelism.

Interview flow:

  • Brief overview of Tim's background

    • In 2009 Tim was a grad student (MBA) at CU Boulder and got a job at Techstars, which is a mentorship-based accelerator.

    • TS 12 locations now

    • Tim got to work with 10 startups, including SendGrid

    • (SendGrid was founded in Orange County [SoCal reppin :] but relocated to Boulder, CO for TS)

    • Tim hit it off with SendGrid and joined as the 6th employee at SendGrid

    • Between 2010--> 2014 SendGrid grew from 6 to 250 employees and raised $30M of capital.  

    • Tim’s trajectory at SendGrid - after about a year as the sole marketer, he started exploring the next growth channel for SG

    • decided to focus on community building

    • April 2011 - Tim started hiring dev evangelists, and subsequently built out a team of about 12 evangelists.

    • August 2014 - left to SendGrid to Keen.io, which did TechStars in 2012

    • Keen had already raised $$ from Sequoia before Tim joined

    • Why is there a TechStars San Antonio location - it was the first vertical accelerator focusing on Cloud.  SA is home to Rackspace and Softlayer (Softlayer now owned by IBM).  

    • Tim was first non-technical hire at SG, along with director of Sales / Biz Dev (Denise Hulce)

  • Brief overview of SendGrid

    • SG is an email platform which helps Developers easily send and receive emails to/from an app, and ensures deliverability and haste

    • Keen.io is a more flexible way to get analytics.  Keen provides a set of tools, versus its competitors which are one-size-fits-all solutions.  Competitors include Kissmetrics, Mixpanel, Google Analytics

    • Keen helps developers collect, analyze, visualize.  Pebble is an early adopter

    • Having data from Keen allows companies to make better decisions, and Keen also powers customer-facing visualization.

    • Game developers, IoT, wearables are heavy adopters

  • What does a dev evangelist do?

    • #1 responsibility is to help people and make friends.  

    • (usually helping developers)

    • For Keen, evangelism isn’t about the actual product

    • Dev Evangelism communicates that your product is investing long term - building a product on top of an API that subsequently dies is a huge pain

    • It’s difficult to capture the concrete ROI behind evangelism (ironic that an analytics company has trouble tracking benefit :)

  • How long have you been running your Dev Evangelism program

    • SG evangelism program was at scale.  at scale much of the uncertainty is dissipated and it’s about executing efficiently.

    • Working for Keen is interesting to Tim because early stage Evangelism is all about getting your footing.  

    • Evangelism helps your company figuring out what’s right for the community you serve

    • goals are also different at a more mature program

    • up front your company hasn’t established a collective input from everyone that matters

    • Evangelism’s goal is to rep the people behind the product so they buy our team, not our product

    • When hiring your first evangelist -- even though they travel a lot, have them relocate home base to where your team is

    • Concrete benefit of evangelism is product feedback - going out to hackathons/meetups creates a feedback loop for your company about critical issues like user onboarding, docs, signup process, time to first API call  

  • Internal Hackathons

    • It’s very rewarding to do internal events (when done right :)

    • Keen took an offsite to costa rica - week together in the house as 30 people - and on the rainiest day of the week threw an internal hackathon

    • Wrong way to do a an internal hackathon - do it to squeeze more productivity and ‘get shit done’

    • Right way - work on whatever you want - learn a new tech, solve a fun or a serious problem, get to know your team

    • Why hackathons are powerful - Job and school are results driven.  Hackathons should be a break from that pressure.

    • When hiring, Tim skips resume and looks for passion projects - important for dev evangelists is projects built for fun… that is a major checkmark

  • What is an API or product (not your own) that you love?

    • Interesting category is search for developers

    • Clarify.io / URX - these two search API’s allow you to index different media for much cooler experience

    • Clarify lets you search for exact keyterms, it indexes audio and video  - hired Keith Casey

    • Would be a great way to search MLH video archives for Dave Fontenot exact phrases :)

    • URX - search for deep links from two others apps … can use the app to search within another app

    • Keith Casey is an evangelist (formerly at Twilio) for Clarify

  • What is your favorite hackathon format?  

    • Competitive - pitch for big prizes (Salesforce, Disrupt, AT&T)

    • Collaborative - science fair expos, finalists demo (MLH)

    • Themed - (Space Apps)

    • Tim likes the collaborative focused ones.  It’s better to fun in an open ended environment, doesn’t matter who’s on your team etc

    • Competitive hackathon gets away from what hackathons really are.  They really are coding competitions.  TC Disrupt is the only major competitive hackathon that preserves the essence of what hackathons are.

    • Themed ones are really fun… Comedy hack day is probably the most entertaining one you could go to.   It’s possibly there is a lack of innovation at themed hackathons.  Lot of repetition and tunnel vision.  Constraints stifle creativity.  This is to say that Themed hackathons have room to improve, not that they’re a bad thing .

    • Organizers mistakenly think having no constraints is a bad thing for a hackathon.  Randomness is a feature, not a bug - leads to black swan solutions.  

  • Tell me about a great event you’ve been to in the past year

    • October - Brooklyn Beta.  It is a conference targeted towards artists and designers, with real focus on people at the event and quality of those people.  It was kept small.  Cool thing is BB was hosted in an art gallery (nonstandard venue).  didn’t have internet provided.  BB intentionally didn’t announce speakers and had only one track.  

    • Tim organized Boulder Beta (unrelated to Brooklyn beta)

    • LA should throw a Brooklyn-Beta-esque

  • Throw a hackathon vs sponsor one - Which choice is better for a company who wants to get involved?

    • Don’t throw an event before you’re experienced as a sponsor - you probably aren’t ready.

    • Don’t throw that hackathon by Mike Swift (founder of MLH)

  • Do you think hackathons/accelerators will play a role in the future of education?

    • Hackathons are acting as supplement to education for devs.  Also supplement to social interaction - meet ‘your people’ over weekend events - friends, future employers, etc.

    • hackathon can also be thought of as continuing education on top of its benefits for primary education

    • Also can hone your dev skills at accelerator, but the focus of accelerators is on entrepreneurship.  Accelerators help you get more confident and to learn by doing.  (Tim was already in MBA program before accelerators were ‘a thing’)

    • Accelerators are softening the risk of ‘taking the plunge’ into entrep and providing extra resources that didn’t exist before.

    • How to educate yourself in 2014 without going to university -

  • Where do the is the dev evangelism scene headed?

    • Dev Evanglism has yet to be explored by the majority of companies.  Still, now it’s a ‘thing’, and a job listed on career pages.  It’s an opportunity to grow beyond just writing code.  People have had this role for several years and now moving.  

    • (sidebar - MSFT understood this before anyone :)

  • Anything (product, API, idea) you want to plug?

    • Keen.io is hiring!  The people behind the product are amazing :)

    • Nick Q and Swift are both SendGrid alums from Tim’s team

  • Is there anything I forgot to ask that I should have?

    • How do you become a dev evangelist?  Answer is simple - just do it! If you love a product, go tell others about it

    • If you want to hire an evangelist, first look at your existing customers/community

twitter.com/timfalls, guess Tim’s email

EDIT:  Changed post's title from "How Tim Falls is building a developer evangelism program from scratch" to its current form, better reflecting Tim's role at Keen.

Jennifer Marsman, developer Evangelist at Microsoft

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If you like this episode and are planning an internal hackathon (or thinking about sponsoring one) - work with me!


  • Brief overview of your background

    • started on the product team

    • was a software dev just out of college

    • 5 years wanted to move back to Michigan with husband (to raise kids where they are from :)

  • Brief overview of your product

    • windows phone / windows OS

    • Azure - cloud computing solution

    • Microsoft Mobile Services

      • It is BaaS (backend as a service) supports Windows and Linux

      • databases - supports hadoob, mongodb, mysql, etc

      • languages - python, java, ruby, node.js, etc

    • Bizspark for startups

      • you get free credits (for startups only, no consultants!!)

      • get access to whole suite of software licenses for microsoft products  

  • What does a dev evangelist do?

    • get paid to play with tech

    • opportunities include speaking at conferences, going to user groups, blogging, tweeting, etc

    • Take feedback from front lines (even if it’s bad) and bring back to product team

      • MSFT does this through connect.microsoft.com

      • best if a dev evangelist can get feedback ASAP

    • it’s great to make the product dev cycle more effective if not faster

      • concrete example - Azure Active Directory had a code snippet (online sample) which wasn’t working correctly - when Jen and the team found and corrected the issue

    • Organize cool events -

      • brought a high decision maker for visual studio on a multi-state road show (“product team tour”)

      • Jen learned that 2 weeks is too long, 1 week is a better duration to shoot for

      • 3 meetings per day, and a user group at night

  • Work style of a dev evangelist

  • How long have you been running your Dev Evangelism program

  • What is an API or product (not your own) that you love?

  • What is your favorite hackathon format?  

    • Competitive - pitch for big prizes (Salesforce, Disrupt, AT&T)

    • Collaborative - science fair expos, finalists demo (MLH)

    • Themed - (Space Apps)

    • All formats have their place - it’s important that there is an option for every developer

    • Interesting to explore serious issues (civic, etc) with technology but also the ones that are just plain fun (like Comedy Hack day) have their place

  • Detroit tech scene -

  • Tell me about a great event you’ve been to in the past year

  • Throw a hackathon vs sponsor one - Which choice is better for a company who wants to get involved?

    • A major tenet of evangelism is meet people where they are, so you should sponsor first …

    • You’re out of your tree if you want to throw a hackathon before having been to a few

    • (John helps hackathons with organization/sponsors - hit me up!)

    • It makes sense to throw your hackathon if it has a theme

  • Do you think hackathons will play a role in the future of education?

    • Going to hackathons really helps your career!

    • Technical screening - Jen has asked “what is the hardest problem you’ve had to solve?” - she hears the same answer over and over (taken from CS term projects) - when a hackathon goer talks about something they’ve built they immediately stand out

    • Dave and others have started businesses and gotten jobs at hackathons

  • Where do the you see the dev evangelism scene evolving to?

    • There is a split between wide reach and deep reach evangelists (‘consumer” vs “enterprise”)

    • MSFT would like to expand their Student and Startup programs

    • Getting an email from someone you’ve helped is the greatest feeling in the world

    • Many big projects inside of companies are bottom-up, begin as hacks - having a wide awareness of your service makes it more likley that your software gets ‘locked in’ at an enterprise level

  • Anything (product, API, idea) you want to plug?

  • Is there anything I forgot to ask that I should have?

Neil Mansilla of Runscope (previously at Mashery)

Listen to the show on Soundcloud -->

Dev Evangelism Podcast with Neil Mansilla

Shownotes/interview flow:

  • Brief overview of your background

    • self taught developer, entrepreneurial from a very young age

    • first program in pascal was a virtual lemonade stand

    • first business was video game / vending machine business

    • first startup was a hosting company

    • pattern throughout his businesses was focus on SMB’s

    • mentioned - DreamHost founder interview

  • Tell me about Runscope and Mashery

    • mashery - API mgt provider with focus on Enterprise

      • Mashery handles a lot of the logistics for large companies’ API’s

      • Neil was very excited to work with Deyln Simons, a mentor of his, it’s one of the reasons he joined Mashery

      • Mashery has so many apps in its suite that you might be using one of their products and not even know it

      • biggest job of a Mashery evangelist is to talk about the APIs on their platform, not mashery itself

    • Runscope - api testing, debugging, tools

      • like a ‘slow motion camera’ for API’s - shows you exactly what happened.  And that you don’t necessarily need ot turn off

      • Runscope is useful during dev, testing, and then in production

      • initial messaging was very dev focused - over the past year it has transitioned towards a broader message with Runscope Radar, now for QA and testing

      • the product is best used pre-emptively instead of reactionary

      • tl;dr - if you use API’s runscope can help you

  • Unique problems of being a Mashery dev (with 300 products in the stable)

    • Having so many solutions doesn’t really affect the job - Dev Evangelist’s prime directive is to help developers implement, even if it’s not your API

    • Best way to help someone get what they really need (versus what they ask for) is to figure out what their goals are for the event.  Are they trying to win or are they a newb?

  • Different personality types at hackathons?

    • Neil has been to a ton of events and been able to do some pattern recognition -

      • 2011 - 70-100 per year

    • See also:  8 types of projects you meet at hackathons

    • types of hackers

      • Mercenary

      • newb - wants to learn

      • design is a good differentiator now

  • Hackathon scene - where is it headed?

    • “I don’t know if it’s possible to go to more hackathons than I have” - Neil Mansilla :)

      • thankfully, never burned out

      • started off as an attendee before

    • Hackathons have Evolved, not devolved as some are saying

    • how to get value out of the hackathon??

      • take feedback you run into and feed it back into product

      • Nick Quinlan is a great evangelist b/c of enthusiasm + chops

    • MajorLeagueHacking (MLH) is a new force in hackathons - Swift started as a multiple attendee, then became a Dev Evangelist for Sendgrid, and now founded MLH

  • Evangelists - what do you do?

    • Travel a lot :)

    • Feedback from events needs to go straight back into product development and making it easier for developers to use

    • DevEvang’s goal is to close the feedback loop and discover what is out there working in the market

    • It’s a long game.  Copying other companies’ strategies doesn’t work without the right culture

    • John Sheehan’s talk at Heavybit - why copying doesn’t work without an integrated culture

    • Your job BEGINS after you do your opening ceremonies pitch - the meat is interacting with hackers throughout the event and listening

    • A good example of getting energy from helping people is Nick Quinlan, who just joined MLH

  • What’s a good way for a hackathon organizers to make your life easier

    • Airport lounge is always part of the deal for a true evangelist :) - rack up a ton of miles

    • organizers should be hackathon attendees before they organize - at least 3 is the sweet spot - participate in one

    • Most important thing for an organizer to do is to ASK FOR HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT

      • stepping up for an event puts you ahead of 90% of your peers - have the maturity to admit when you need help

      • sponsors have spent money, and hackers are absolutely spending their valuable time.  you have a responsibilty to them

    • ‘Table stakes” articles by evangelists exist because of things organizers could have done better

    • How to throw an epic hackathon - Mike Swift, fmr commissioner of MLH

    • The Hackathon Budget - by organizers of HackMIT

    • Planning for Wifi disaster at hackathons - Organizers of Mhacks

    • Hackathon Transportation 101 - Mike Swift

    • How to fundraise - by Dave Fontenot

  • How long have you been running your Dev Evangelism program

    • Excited to build the program at Runscope because it’s a tool Neil and other developers have been using

    • The Runscope program is in its infancy and Neil refuses to take shortcuts

    • FUD - define it

    • If you build an app that is depending on another API doing what it says it will - if it doesn’t you’re at risk

  • What is an API or product (not your own) that you love?

    • It all boils down to good Developer Experience (DX)

    • Twilio - easy to use because of the portal

    • Stripe is also a good portal

    • TomTom - Geocoding

    • Klout - it does more than just the score, has an interest/influence graph

    • ESRI (ArcGIS) - puts google maps to shame, has a z axis

  • Tell me about a great event you’ve been to in the past year

  • Neil’s big winner at TechCrunch Disrupt SF

    • Neil’s team won Disrupt with “Shower with Friends,” it was his first win in 8 events

    • Previously competed in Disrupt as team Hot Mess

    • At Disrupt Sept ‘14 he built “Shower with Friends” using an Intel Galileo board

    • Idea came because Neil had promised BK (CEO of Intel) he’d build something with potential to install at his house

    • Internet of Things + Drought (recall Ice Bucket Challenge) + Gamification = Win

    • GroupMe is most valuable project so far (exited for $85m, sold to skype) to come out of a hackathon, Tinder is on track to beat them (see Article about Tinder’s foundation)

    • flow sensor on the Mashery keg -- Galileo was the startup Intel bought

    • Intel Developer Forum @ Moscone - tweeted question to intel CEO “can we install it”

  • Where do the you see the dev evangelism scene evolving to?

    • Past several years it has matured a lot

    • Focus on closing the loop between people who use developer tools and the team who is building them

    • near future - more tied in with product and with consumer side.  Less of a focus on discovery of your product, more focus on partner ecosystem

    • More focus on the instrinsic goal of being helpful

    • A major benefit of having developer evangelists that they are an advocate of your customers to pressure the engineer team to build best product

  • Anything (product, API, idea) you want to plug?

    • use runscope - Neil used it before he started working there :).  (there’s a free tier

  • Where can we find you

    • Twitter - @mansilladev

    • follow @runscope

How Pagerduty is building a dev evangelism program - David Hayes

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Shownotes / Question List
  • (Dove in too fast, forgot to intro Pagerduty - product/what they do!!)

    • Pagerduty is a product which sends alerts only when necessary to make an administrator able to sleep better :)

    • rate limiting - came too late

    • PagerDuty has a support team which helps users with code -

    • good and technical support team - similar strategy to Kevin Hale’s Wufoo story  shared at Stanford’s how to start a startup class (Kevin is now Y Combinator Partner)

  • Brief overview of your background

    • David has been at Pagerduty for 3.5 years,

    • Met other foudners of Pagerdut at University of Waterloo in Ontario

    • already scraping the app to put together their APis before you released it

  • What does a dev evangelist do?

    • Dave looked for - headlined conferences, has lots of energy

    • hired Amanda in August -

    • Dev Evangelists are different from engineers because their TOP priority is going to events and repping the company, they are unlikely to be pulled back to put out a fire

    • Need to be able to gain energy from going to events and fielding the same question again and again

    • People asking repetitive questions is actually good - you already know how to answer it and can really nail the answer

  • How to keep track of questions fielded to your evangelism team for later implementation?

    • PD keeps track of feature requests/integrations

    • 100x more feature requests than PD team can possibly

    • It’s unclear what the best way to do it is -

    • Sometimes people implement your product in a novel way, but are dissapointed they had to do it for themselves  

  • How long have you been running your Dev Evangelism program

    • Pagerduty is operations performance platform first and foremost.  

    • Developer focused product, not a concrete Dev Evang program.  

    • didn’t hire first dedicated until about 3 months ago

    • #chatops - works with Hipchat, Slack (see also), and Flowdock.  Also many bots built by customers

    • Checkout developer.pagerduty.com for more example - PD tries to help with Open Source

    • Pagerduty has a pilot program to sponsor “bug bounties”  to encourage more developer engagement

    • people who build something for themselves aren’t focusing on deployment for other people - main idea is to reward people for going final 20% of the way and making their code deployable for other people

  • How to keep support excited?  What is their reward for taking care of business

    • Their job isn’t trivial

    • Main motivation is to crush it, doesn’t matter how that gets done, just that it is happening

  • What is an API or product (not your own) that you love?

  • What is your favorite hackathon format?  

    • Competitive - pitch for big prizes (Salesforce, Disrupt, AT&T)

    • Collaborative - science fair expos, finalists demo (MLH)

    • Themed - (Space Apps)

    • As a Sponsor - all sorts of hackathons are recruiting opportunities - Pagerduty likes the kind of person who goes to hackathons - smart + get stuff done

    • There may be an inverse relationship between cool demo vs and useful products.  It was hard to get traction at the event b/c it’s a B2B unsexy product

    • Right now it seems like hardware has an advantage in winning hackathons - tools like Oculus and Myo

    • Many hacks die - which is why ChallengePost and Hackerleague exists

    • Many hackathon attendees have full time commitments which take priority over their projects

    • It would be great if more people would document what they built so others don’t have to reinvent the wheel - you should get credit for your hack from the system

    • Companies notice whenever David does a new hack or implementation and posts it on his blog - he is frequently offered phone interviews which he is not interested in taking

    • Opportunity to have a fund to encourage people to make a blog post / documentation for their hacks so others won’t have to reinvent the wheel

    • A pagerduty interview candidate once cited existing code and blog post they’d done previous - they aced the interview

  • also participant in many hackathons -

    • Dave wanted to go to a hackathon to meet a cofounder

    • Pagerduty loves doing monthly internal hackathons, great because it’s easy for the team to get excited about a 10% optimization of existing process

  • Anything (product, API, idea) you want to plug?

  • Where to find you?

    • euri.ca - David writes about code samples, what he’s learning at a quickly scaling startup in Silicon Valley

How Lob does Developer Evangelism with Leore Avidar

I conducted an email interview with Leore, a cofounder of Lob.  Like other innovative software companies, Lob has a developer evangelism program.  They've sponsored several hackathons, including MHacks, HackMIT, and BitCamp 

Lob’s mission is to transform bits into atoms - they make it easy to do that with their API, which powers companies’ paper mail via software.   Lob is a graduate of Y Combinator S’13 and took venture from First Round Capital, Polaris, and Floodgate.  

Q: Tell me briefly about your background

  • I Graduated from the University of Michigan in 2011.

  • After graduatiing, I went to work as a derivatives trader on Wall street.

  • In 2012 I left to start my first startup in Michigan - after that I moved to Seattle to work for Amazon Web Services.

  • After AWS I founded Lob and participated in Y Combinator’s Summer 2013 Batch.

Q: What does a dev evangelist do?

A dev evangelist attends developer-focused events to evangelize his/her product and to help participants with technical problems they face.

The role of a dev evangelist is both to serve as a mentor and also to help guide teams to build a successful product. Guidance can be in the form of recommending tools to use, answering technical related questions, or helping architect a weekend hack.

Q: What did you work on before you became a dev evangelist?

A: Before starting Lob, I was a Technical Business Developer Representative at Amazon Web Services.

Q: How long have you been running your Dev Evangelism program:

A: We have been running our Dev Evangelism program since we graduated Y Combinator in 2013. We have been attending hackathons ever since.

Q: What is an API or product (not your own) that you love?

Stripe. The documentation is crystal clear and their wrappers are constantly being updated. They have great wrappers on github and I can get Stripe integrated and running within a few minutes.

Q:  What is your favorite hackathon format?  

I like the competitive hackathons best. Competition incentivizes people to build amazing products. Competition fosters creativity and pushes people to create the best hacks.

Q:  Tell me about a great event you’ve been to in the past year

YC hacks was pretty epic. There was a diverse and extremely talented crowd.

Not only were the hacks amazing but the mentorship, creativity, and overall atmosphere was at a higher caliber than other events I have been too.

Q:  Throw a hackathon vs sponsor one - Which choice is better for a company who wants to get involved?

For a company just starting out, I would suggest sponsoring a hackathon. This will make hackers aware of your product and also allow you to get acclimated to the hacker community. This will also allow you to understand the fundamentals of a hackathon and see first hand what it takes to make a successful event.

Once you have been to 2-3 and have built up a reputation in the hackathon community than you can throw one yourself.  

Q:  Do you think hackathons are the future of education?

Hackathons have their place in education. They are a great complement to education but they cannot replace it.

A hackathon won’t teach you the fundamentals of programming but it will allow to experiment with new software and learn from the brightest peers around you. If you combine both you are bound for success.

Q:  Where do the you see the dev evangelism scene evolving to?

I see the dev evangelism scene as the main way companies interact with top talent. The relationship between companies and young developers is constantly evolving. More and more dev evangelists are becoming mentors to these young developers and guiding them to their first job or startup.

Eventually, dev evangelists will be thought leaders and hackers will look upto these evangelists for guidance, career advice, and to access to top tier tech firms. The dev evangelists are the gatekeepers as they can see the potential of young developers.

Q:  Anything (product, API, idea) you want to plug?

Yes, hackers should take a look at the lob.com API (lob.com). For experienced hackers lob is a great API to add to your tool belt.

We are also looking for talented engineers to help build the future of APIs for the enterprise.

Q:  Is there anything I forgot to ask that I should have?

Nope :)