Hack Cyprus 2012: A tale of hacking in Cyprus
TL;DR Hack Cyprus 2012 was the first ever hackathon in Cyprus. Here are some lessons learned from organizing it.
First, some geography. Do you see that little island in the middle of Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt? That’s Cyprus. Its population? Less than a million people. According to Google, it doesn’t even deserve a country tag at this zoom level.
Cyprus experienced its first hackathon last weekend, and it was awesome. More than 80 people got together and hacked for around 30 hours building stuff ranging from event aggregators, underwater explorer robots, augmented reality games and mobile apps. For Cyprus, a country starving for technological innovation, this is a huge thing - and it’s all part of a bigger movement trying to create a tech startup scene on the island.
When me, @geracleous and @gmakkoulis, set out to organize Hack Cyprus 2012 we had no clue on how to go about it. Sure, we’ve been to a fair share of hackathons ourselves, but organizing one entails a completely different set of requirements. This post is an attempt to share our experiences, dos and dont’s, with everyone that’s asking the same questions we did, a couple of months ago.
Ask, a lot
When you don’t know, ask. We scoured the web and our social networks and found people that have done this before. The information and advice they gave us was invaluable.
Give yourself plenty of time
We first committed to the idea of organizing this hackathon in mid-June and, naively, thought that 2.5 months were enough. As it turns out, hackathons take a lot of time and resources to organize, especially if all of you are occupied full-time with either work or university. If we had another two weeks to prepare, we would have saved ourselves from a lot of stress.
This is mostly location-depended. If you are planning a hackathon in a country that’s not at the forefront of current technology trends (Cyprus, for example), then people are likely to never have heard of a hackathon before. What’s even worse, they might correlate it to security hacking and get the wrong impression. Be prepared to educate them, explain in simple terms what a hackathon is and give them examples of previous hackathons and what came out of them. For example, we created a small series of posts showcasing past hackathons in the UK and the US and circulated them regularly amongst our followers.
Validate your intuition
You think that people will respond well to your hackathon. Hell, you are certain they will. Well, have fun explaining that to any potential sponsor! They need to see numbers, they need to feel safe that they will get their money’s worth back.
Before even coming up with any structure for the hackathon, our designer friend @orourkedesign had this idea that we should set up a simple website with a bit of explanatory text and a big button saying “I want this to happen”. Clicking on the button would register a user’s interest (by adding them to a Facebook event and in a Firebase database), and would then display their profile pic alongside all the others that expressed their support. The result was great. We got over 160 supporters and we validated our idea - all with a couple of hours of work.
Don’t let sponsors stall you or play you
If you are looking for sponsorship, prepare to negotiate. If a potential sponsor is slow to respond, go to the next one. Don’t waste time with people that don’t get it. Also - and this is important - do not take anything for granted until you actually have the money. We made that mistake and we paid for it.
The venue is the single most important thing you need to secure. Make sure there’s enough room for double the amount of people you expect. Otherwise it’s going to get too crowdy and, after a while, smelly. Pick your venue wisely as it will play a role in your hackathon’s success. It needs to have toilets (more than one), projectors, lots of desk space, windows, air conditioning (if you live in a hot climate), fast internet, strong and reliable wi-fi and loads of wall jacks and ethernet ports. If you are going to have workshops or presentations during the event, it’s best if you have a second room for that so you don’t disturb the teams.
Food and drinks
Hackathons tend to be on the unhealthy side of food. Red Bulls, chocolates, crisps are all essential I know, but, take some time to think different. For example, have some fruits, juices, cereal and milk - people will appreciate that. Eating well will keep them focused for more time. Of course, everything should be free if your budget allows for it.
People come to hackathons mostly for the fun of it but it wouldn’t hurt if they got rewarded for their hard work! A prize is always a good motivator, even though some might say it’s the wrong kind of motivator.
In any case, if you plan to have prizes you should cater for different categories of hacks. For example, we offered the Hack Cyprus Prize and the Crowd Favourite Prize that every team was eligible for and then we had prizes for mobile apps and hardware.
Another important point is to be transparent with your scoring scheme. We got that wrong, so please get it right. At the start of the event make sure you tell the teams what they will be judged upon and how important each score dimension is.
You will have a good time, but any half-descent event needs to leave its mark in internet history. Have a live feed that aggregates tweets, pics and even commit messages! When the event is over freeze the feed to a static page and serve it to the Googlebot for consumption. Take lots of pictures and videos, make a public group on Flickr and tell everyone to upload their material from the event. Have a live stream during presentation time for people that didn’t make it to the venue. We went a step further and got everyone to sign our banner. That was sweet!
I’ll leave you with some pictures from the event - you can discuss on Hacker News.