Friday, July 05, 2013

the end of hack days as we know it?

I have been running volunteer hack events under the dev4good banner for a few years, something I feel was needed in the developer community.
As far as I remember when we ran the first dev4good event it was the only dev/charity hack weekend, there was another one lined for later in the year (givecamp) but our 25 strong team may have been the first ever in London.

Fast forward 6 events, a couple of hundred volunteers and even a few launched products the hack day world has changed, just head over to and see for yourselves.
There are hacks all the time, for every subject you can think of, in every location around the UK.
Companies are running them to engage with their customers, developers, prospective clients, local newspapers are running them, everyone is doing it now.

But I am pretty sure every hack event attendee (and organiser) thinks the same thing, wow that was great but what have we actually achieved?
At a base level the events always follow the same structure;
  1. welcome
  2. Speakers intro/outline projects
  3. Coffee
  4. Start work on projects in teams
  5. Lunch
  6. More working
  7. End of day demo of progress
  8. Pizza
If the event is over multiple days the secondary days are +/- minus the same, except the last day where everyone has to pitch their 'finished' idea to the group.
Sometimes we will get a project out the door, live on net in some shape or other, mostly the projects are seeds for bigger ideas or are there to prove that the project is viable.
Do we actually make a difference?

As soon as the event is over, everyone goes away with a feeling they have done something good, learned something and met some cool like minded people.
The euphoria normally lasts until the alarm clock goes off and you have to return to the reality that your actual job beckons.

And this is the big problem with any hack/community based project where people are volunteering their time, what happens after the event when the only time you have to work on it is going to take you away from that elusive thing called 'spare time', especially when you are not going to get paid for it and there may never be an end to it.

I personally think that the hack days as I know them are coming to an end, dont worry we are still going to be running dev4good events, but maybe with a different goal.
In the beginning they were targetted at getting developers out of their comfort zone and into a social environment where they can meet and code with other developers.
I realised after a couple of events, that as nice as that sounds, the sponsors need to see that we are getting something done, so the focus was changed to building a minimal viable product on day one and then add functionality to it in a seriously iterative/agile process so you can 'deploy often'.

The best event we ever ran was the last one which was the Windows Phone 8 hack, Nokia gave us 10 devleoper devices so teams could deploy to a real device to test as they went, although we only got one product to the marketplace, it was a brilliant weekend from a working code point of view and a good way to set the standard of what we need to achieve this each time.

  • Developers
  • Designers
  • Access to the technology they are planning to use
  • Extreme and focused MVP thinking
Now I don't think hack days like this will disappear, but I think they are going to have to change into something either more social, or more focused on getting a product out the door. Any event that sits between this may end up becoming a 'little last season' with people looking to take something home that they can use in their real lives.

So what does that mean for dev4good?
Well that is a good questions, with only one event so far this year and only a handful of months left.... maybe we need something different, feel free to email any ideas you have for us to run, the wackier the better!

1 comment:

Matt Lacey said...

I think the issue is that people forget that it takes more than developers to create something and a successful product takes ongoing work, it's not just build something and then forget about it.

As hack events have become more popular and promoted they're being attended by more people. Not everyone can develop something in a weekend.

People are also attending events that last just a few hours and expecting to be able to be taught something new and then being able to use it to build complex things immediately after. Very rarely have I seen people do that.