Hackathons and Event-based Volunteerism

A big part of working with volunteers revolves around events.

Advanced open source organizations actually tend to do less events as they have robust developer communities already, but most orgs find that hackathon types of events are the most immediate way to attract developers to their projects.

There are some common methods that make Hackathons successful, and some specific recommendations that we have when thinking about to harness the power of this events-based model in building up your development environment.

Social Good Hackathon Considerations

It’s pretty important to include end-users in a social good hackathon. As much as possible, you should always have 2 types of individuals present at the event besides the developers / engineers. The first is the end-user that will actually be using the product. If the application is for people who are low vision, you should have a low vision participant come for part of the hack event. The second individual that should be available is someone who knows the impact space – usually a program manager at the nonprofit. It’s important to have that person be highly involved in creating or updating the product.

The Basics:

So someone has asked you to do a “Hackathon for Good” or some other type of tech volunteer event. We love helping organizations understand how to get the best code out of these events, so we’re hopeful we can provide some guidance about short-term coding events that may help you. Make sure that your event takes these points into account:

  • Fast wireless internet as you’ll have dozens of people online at the same time – it helps to post passwords on the wall for easy viewing
  • Have multiple power chords and places for people to plug-in their laptops
  • Have places for people to sit together / and also to work independently
  • Have free food and drinks onsite so developers don’t wander away
  • Help volunteers get their development environments setup ahead of time
  • Provide very little noise and few distractions – light music is ok
  • Provide plenty of transportation options and free parking for developers
  • Remember: recruiting efforts can make or break your event!


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