Hackathons 101

November 9, 2019 is the Aaron Swartz Day International Hackathon

If you don’t see a hackathon in your town for November 9th, you can start one on your own.

Be sure to tweet or DM to us at @AaronSwartzDay or write to us at AaronSwartzDay at protonmail.com (for a more secure message) to let us know.

Here’s all you need:

1) A venue:

This can be a hackerspace, someone’s large apartment or a big section of a restaurant that has been reserved. Even a conference room or two at a company has worked before.

On average, you will want a space hold 20 or more people comfortably.

Of course, if you and your friends would like to just have something small for your own group, that can be perfect too! All you’d need then is a small home, or somewhere like a big room on campus you only need room for the number of people you are expecting.

2) Find people with ideas about things they want to improve and build:

You don’t have to be a programmer to participate in these hackathons. You can do research, file FOIA requests, write documentation, take & publish notes from the speakers, or work & recruit people to work on some other project of yours you are passionate about or something that strikes you once you get there and have a chance to consider all of the options.

Encourage creative & good hearted individuals you know to come to your event, and emphasize that no one really knows what they’re going to “hack” on really until they get there.

3) Decide on a single contact email where folks can write the organizer to find out more about the event. This is very helpful when you are booking speakers & activities.

4) Food & Beverages – or a clearly specified break during the day for folks to get their own (so no one falls over from not eating lunch :)

Hackathoners – whether they are programming, researching, writing, or just learning from each other, do need food to feed their brains. The type of food will depend on what you’re peeps are used to. There’s no right or wrong answer unless you are trying to get away with not having any food (which is not a good idea).

People tend to work on projects until they wear themselves out and won’t always leave to go get food.

It’s a pretty good idea to have at least water and trail mix or some other kind of healthy snacks around.

5) Google form-based RSVP sheet:

Having an accurate count of how many people you are expecting is very helpful when you are trying to guesstimate how much food to buy, tables to set up, etc.

We find that it’s easiest to create a form that saves to a google doc, so people can RSVP and it’s saved to a spreadsheet, so you have a list of everyone easily. We will be happy to share our form code with you.

6) Give us the information so we can make you a page on our website for your city:

Email us your information and we’ll add you to our hackathon directory :)  AaronSwartzDay at protonmail.com. (We will work on it with you to make sure you love it :)

As far as hackathon activities go, you have many options:

1) Participate in our collection of projects being hacked on all over the world

We will have numerous projects that your attendees can work on, and there will be many more up soon.

2) Speakers – We can help you get speakers, if you’d like some. Depending on what town you’re in, we can make suggestions and do some introductions with local branches of tech & advocacy orgs.

3) Zoom video conferencing with the hackathoners & project leaders at the San Francisco hackathon, so your attendees can still ask questions in real time during the hackathon. Mek at the Internet Archive is making sure that everyone is connected.

4) Q & A with the San Francisco speakers in real time, if your hackathoners are watching the webstream live YouTube on California time.

We pulled this off last year with folks from Australia and it worked out really well!

Okay that’s it for now! We will be adding to this list as we get more projects and ideas and think of useful things to tell first-time hackathon organizers. The point is that YOU CAN DO IT! And we’ll help make it a lot easier to organize a successful Aaron Swartz Day hackathon in your town. Write us at aaronswartzday at protonmail.com with any questions. Thanks <3