Why run a hackathon
Hackathons are a great way to learn from the experiences of other developers and expand your skills effectively. They are also a great way to innovate around ideas and do some out of the box thinking. Innovation is one reason companies get involved, they want developers to get creative and inspire people to build valuable apps and services. So both you and your company benefit by being involved in hackathons.
You don’t have to start off with a 500 developer hackathon, just getting 10 developers together can be a great start.
Building up experience with Hackathons
If you are not sure you can run a public hackathon then try going to local hackathon and see how they are run. Events organisers are just like you and me and so they will be happy to talk to you about running your own, however find a good time to talk to them when things have quietend down on the first day.
Another way to get experience is to run internal hackathons within your own company. The challenge here is to drum up interest and finding a good time to run the event.
You could start of really small and just do a lunchtime hack or brown bag session. If you get the support of your company then you can work up through a half-day to 2 day hackathon internally.
Companies like the FT.com in the UK run internal hackathons and invite developers from all of their worldwide offices. Its a great way for developers to understand different parts of the business, to understand each teams concerns and learn new ideas and technology in a very effective way.
Find a venue
In London we are lucky to have many developers who are willing to host events at their company offices, especially at weekends when no-one else is around.
I also run the Hack The Tower event from the London Salesforce office. As its on the 27th floor it also has great views of London
List the event on Meetup & DUGs in your area
You need people to turn up, so find your local developer user group (DUG) and advertise it on their meetup page. If you dont have a DUG in your area, why not start one and Salesforce will help you get going.
You can also publish your event on hackathon specific meetups, like Hackathons and Jams. Don’t forget to tweet and blog about the event too.
Have a theme (optional)
A theme for the event can focus developers and help them get started with their apps. Trying out a new feature with the Force.com platform or the new Heroku API are good ways to get the creative juices flowing.
Help teams form
The event can be quite unstructured, but its useful to help developers form into teams. I suggest asking who has ideas for apps they want to try or aspects of the platform they want to get more experience with.
Developers don’t have to stay in the same teams, so its good to know what options you have to collaborate.
Organise some food & drink
If its a big event you will need one or more sponsors to pay for the food and drink. Many companies are interested in sponsoring these events to get feedback from developers about their apps and services. Try reaching out to Force.com and Heroku partners and talk to them about getting involved.
Hopefully by now you have persuaded your company to also see the value of these events, so see what kind of budget you can secure.
If you are just having a lunchtime session with people in your company, see if your company with provide you with lunch (assuming this is not already a perk)
Sponsor some prizes (optional)
Competition for prizes can be very motivational and also helps draw developers to the event. Sof if you run a large public event its good to have a few prizes. Again, sponsors can also get involved and provide prizes too.
Hackathons are a great way to learn from other developers on the Force.com & Heroku platforms, so why not find one in your area or start something within your own company.