I was lucky enough to get to attend Rewired State’s “National Hack the Government Day” last weekend. It was a really good day and probably the best Hackday I’ve been to.
Things that really made it work:
- It was focused. Having a very specific set of goals makes it easier for people to come up with ideas, especially when it’s only over the space of a day.
- It was in an office. Swanky new Guardian ones at that. As much as I like beanbags, they just don’t fit for getting much work done. Having desk space just really felt productive and comfortable and felt more conducive to code.
- The group was small and selected. It might sound kind of pretentious to be selective about the attendees, but it worked. I’ve been to so many events where anyone could sign up, and the tickets have been taken by people who simply don’t show up because there wasn’t much incentive to (or they just weren’t that committed in the first place) or the people that did show weren’t necessarily relevant. RWS managed to get a busy group of people who were good developers and interested in the topic. Turn-out was excellent (350 applied, there were 100 places, and 80 attended).
- The atmosphere was friendly, productive and helpful. Everyone seemed really positive and interested in what everyone else was doing, and offered help and advice when asked. It was a good mix of skill-sets too.
- There was beer and pizza.
Personally, I didn’t get much done. I’m not really an ideas kind of person – but I’m more than happy to help out someone else or just build what’s given to me. Although there was a list of potential things on their wiki, it wasn’t clear if those were being built by people already and such.
I think what would work really well at something like that is mixing it up with some of the BarCamp methods. A great thing about BarCamp is seeing the 2 day schedule go up on the wall, and it being filled in with hand-written (often decorated) cards of ideas and names – as soon as you stick up your own card, you feel a bit committed to actually making sure you get your talk done. Perhaps what Hackdays need is to get all the ideas written up on cards, stick them up somewhere, then let people move them into “Doing”, “Would like to do” and “Rubbish/Off-topic” groupings etc. Then it’d be easy to see what’s up for grabs, or if there’s some people who want to do something but need a bigger team to get it done, and just generally get a buzz around what’s going on in the room.
Cool things did come out of RWS though, and you can check most of them out on the project page. Work seems to be continuing on many of the projects, and quite a few were offered further funding at the end of the event too. Kudos to James and Richard (and everyone else) for such a successful event.