This past Friday, April 17th, the Julia Language hosted the first-ever Virtual Julia Hackathon. This post will serve as a brief summary of what we did and what we learned to hopefully help improve the process of hosting virtual hackathons/events in the future.
See https://julialang.org/hackathons/ for more details on our first Virtual Hackathon.
What Worked Well:
- Zoom was extremely reliable. We were live for 13+ hours without any technical/connection issues at all.
- Breakout Rooms are an awesome way to connect with folks around a similar topic. We discovered that if you have “Co-host” permission on a call, once you are assigned to a breakout room, you can freely move between all other breakout rooms and self organize on projects. This maximized flexibility for users and minimized the work for the Host in the “Main Lobby”.
What We Can Improve For Future Virtual Hackathons/Events:
- The “Main lobby” of the Zoom call requires someone to be there at all times. Katharine Hyatt and I were in the main lobby for a combined 13+ hour which was rather taxing for both of us. In the future, like an in-person event, we would need folks to sign up for volunteer shifts to hang out in the Main Lobby and direct traffic (this entails welcoming people, explaining how to navigate to different breakout rooms, etc.).
- If we have folks pre-register for the event, then we can pre-set them as “Co-hosts” so they can freely move between breakout rooms without any need for a host to assign them to enable their mobility.
- Once the Breakout rooms are open, they cannot be renamed or have new ones added. We need to make sure we have rooms set up that are relevant to the Hackathon attendees.
- It would be really great to have a host for each breakout room. This host would do a few things:
- Welcome folks to the breakout room itself. While I was not personally surfing breakout rooms, my guess is that many folks went to a breakout room and were greeted with absolute silence. This is one of the downsides to a virtual event as many social norms breakdown as you are not really there. Having a host welcome folks would hopefully help improve this.
- The host would also keep tabs on what folks are working on so that let’s say someone joins the "Data Science " breakout room, that host of the breakout room can tell/show the person all of the projects that are being worked on in that room and help them find something to work on.
- Consider alternative platforms. Some folks are not keen to use Zoom so if there are better ways to connect face to face, we should consider that platfrom.
- Schedule some breaks/chats during the hackathon so folks can relax and just socialize.
- Figure out a good way of being inclusive to all time zones and have multiple hosts. While I was happy to wake up at 4:30 AM for this event, It would be nice to have multiple main Hosts in distributed timezones such that people can stay on their regular schedules.
Thanks again to everyone who tuned in and helped! We are looking forward to taking action on some of the pain points from the first Virtual Hackathon to make the experience better for everyone.