HackBeanpot 2017 finally happened last weekend. It was great, as always. This year was a little different though because I didn't make anything, unless you count plusplusbot. Also HackBeanpot 2017 started a year ago for me because I somehow wound up on the core organizing team.
I didn't really mistakenly end up in a HackBeanpot meeting, I said last year that I would probably help out with this year's HackBeanpot. Initially when I was asked to join Core last year I said I would think about it. I was thinking that I would be too busy to do HackBeanpot while in my final year of classes. In the end I was right, the last month leading up to the event was pretty stressful in things I had to keep track of and do, but we'll get to that. I foolishly reconsidered how busy I would be and said yes.
The first couple of months were pretty low key, it was a few months after HackBeanpot 2016, we had to research venues, didn't seem too bad. There were a bunch of cool places, like 20, that seemed perfect for a hackathon but we ruled most of them out, like 15, for one reason or another. It may have not been open on weekends, or was too expensive, or it was too small, or it wasn't easily T accessible, or they just wouldn't get back to us, or they didn't do overnights. Overnight hackathons are great but also crazy at the same time. The lack of sleep causes everything to be hilarious (Slack for Slack) and ridiculous (taking a 90 minute nap after staying up for forever and then attempting to rewrite the entire server client message queue part of your code 4 hours before demos) until you're so tired your eyes can't focus on your code so there's no point in staying up any longer. Pretty much every place we looked at either wouldn't allow us to hold an overnight event or was extremely wary about it, for good reason. In the end this year HackBeanpot wasn't overnight and I think it was for the best. I got like twice as much sleep every day than I usually do at a hackathon. It's amazing how much more you can get done on 3 good hours of sleep versus 90 minutes of sleep.
Besides the insanity that was venues we also had to find sponsors. Generous benefactors that would fund our silly little hackathon. Unsurprisingly it's kind of hard to do. I think the main reason it's difficult is because HackBeanpot is independent. We are not officially affiliated with a university even though we've pretty much been a Northeastern hackathon. It's one thing to get an email asking you to fund a university backed event, it's another thing to get an email from an independent organization (non-profit!) asking you for money. I would think it's pretty similar but apparently it isn't looking at our sponsors list 🙃. However, looking at previous years sponsors I guess we may just have sucked this year. It's probably pretty hard to get sponsors for a university backed hackathon as well, just a little less hard. The other reason I think it's difficult is because we're a small hackathon.
The feeling I get from most hackathons is that sponsors are really there to poach students for their company. Maybe also ideas, but Venmo didn't steal my amazing Venmo plugin for Slack idea yet. Sponsoring companies get a lot of data from hackathon attendees: names, emails, resumes, favorite late time snacks. Also maybe some knowledge that the people attending hackathons are the ones who will put way too much time working for you on something. Basically, I don't really want hackathons to be about the sponsors (even though they're really really important to making a hackathon happen). Hackathons should be about the attendees and I think that can only really happen at smaller hackathons. Smaller hackathons feel much more tightly knit than large hackathons. You can walk around the space in less than 2 minutes and you can briefly talk to every team there in under 20 minutes. Also can you imagine #water-olympics happening at HackMIT's 1000 person hackathon?
So besides finding a place to have a hackathon and somehow feeding everybody that will show up to your theoretical hackathon you also need to find people who want to go to your foodless event that's held in your room. Finding Northeastern people is easy, we sold 100 tickets in 5 minutes. Last year HackBeanpot sold out in around 90 minutes with 200 tickets. Yeah, I'm still pretty impressed. Building a diverse event is harder. HackBeanpot has always been a welcoming place to first time hackathoners. We reached out to many other school groups in the area, we didn't just email CS groups either. We released tickets early to groups that responded to us and I think that really helped. This year we had a 7 person BU team that demoed their app on the final day but that obviously doesn't beat out the like 12 person, all freshman, Echodrop team from 3 years ago.
So now you've tricked 200 people into coming to the hackathon in your room. How do you make sure they have a good time? We tried to make sure that there was always something for people to do during the event even if they weren't working on something. We had 7 talks and/or workshops over the weekend and all of the ones I went to were great. I'm disappointed I didn't attend any of Mike Miles's talks because apparently he's a great orator. I had also planned on setting up an Xbox for people to use but the power supply exploded so now I need to deal with Microsoft to get a new one.
Now it's Spring Break, one month before the hackathon, you're still in Boston, it's snowing, and you're basically getting 1 email every minute. This is where it got a little crazy. My Thursdays usually consisted of waking up at 9:30 AM, showing up to work late, and then not getting back home until 11 PM or 12 AM because I was at a 3 hour HackBeanpot meeting. Since I'm still terribad at not procrastinating I dropped some less important school related items to take care of HackBeanpot items. Worth it.
So now it's 7:15 PM on a Friday at your hackathon and you aren't ready to open doors but a bunch of people are waiting downstairs because the Eventbrite ticket says the event starts at 7:00 PM but you were expecting to start registration at 7:30 PM. When I was sitting downstairs on the other side of the registration table for the first time, right before I announced that we were ready to let people in I felt nervous, but also excited. The only other time I felt nervous at a hackathon was when my group and I demoed for the first time at HackBeanpot 2014. It was finally fucking happening and all these fucking people expect us to have planned a great event.
And it was a great event. Literally better than I expected. I actually don't know what I expected since literally 3 months ago we didn't have a venue yet. Every year at HackBeanpot I help make a pretty cool project and this year I helped make a pretty cool hackathon. I probably couldn't have been on a team with a better group of people. Imagine your group project lasts one year instead of a few months. You're not going to make it if your team sucks. The team this year was amazing. The volunteers this year were also amazing, super helpful in making sure the hackathon ran as smoothly as possible.
Looking back on my ideal hackathon post I think HackBeanpot always hits the mark. I don't think I can say this enough. HackBeanpot is the best hackathon I've been to, hands down. No hackathon can compare to the feeling of community, no hackathon can foster such a great first time hacker experience, no other hackathon has #water-olympics.
Tangent to explain #water-olympics. Genuine, the place where the hackathon was held, has a water dispenser that has 5 different flavors. One of the Core team members started having people guess what flavor their water was when she filled up their water bottle. There was soon a spreadsheet that tallied who had the most correct guesses and eventually culminated on Saturday night with a head to head #water-olympics water tasting bracket.
Let me also be clear again, it wasn't all great. More than one venue fell through in the final stages of planning with them. Getting sponsors to sign on was pretty difficult and demoralizing when we either got a no or no response. Trying to plan food for 200 people while considering food restrictions can get extremely confusing. But in the end it all worked out. Some members of Core along with a couple volunteers got ice cream a few hours after the event ended on Sunday and I said that I probably wouldn't be on Core again next year if I was a 4th year. Now I think I would reconsider that decision again. HackBeanpot has forever changed my life. I honestly don't know what my life would be like without it. I tried to make it my goal to help create an event that was as fun as my first HackBeanpot. I think we succeeded and I hope Core 2018 creates an even better event.
I will forever ❤ HackBeanpot.
HackBeanpot, Inc. is an independent, entirely student run, non-profit based in Boston. HackBeanpot runs an annual, weekend-long hackathon for students, hackers, makers, and beginners. HackBeanpot strives to create an inclusive and fun environment that fosters creativity from all attendees, from first time hackathon attendees to seasoned hackathon veterans, enabling anyone to create cool shit.