Follow up on the first ever Virtual Julia Hackathon

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.

34 Likes

You woke up at 4.30am AND staid for 13+ hours? I tip my hat to you, sir!

Is there any way of figuring out what happened during the hackathon, i.e. what people worked on? This sounds really interesting although I’m afraid I’d be very out of my depth if I attended, so having a way of gauging whether I could usefully participate would be great.

6 Likes

Hey @nilshg! It was indeed a long day. Thankfully @kslimes was there to Co-Host with me.

I did put out a submission form to highlight some of the stuff that folks worked on but no-one opted to have their work featured. See here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sp4Y1s8kUFHRZ9UWDGmwxZprH6O1Wgo7jIT9VQPpCVw/edit for a look into some of the projects that were worked on. I really think this event and future events should be for everyone so we can definitely find a place for anyone willing to help on a project or build their own independent project.

1 Like

So everybody ended up being a co-host? Is there a limit to the number of co-hosts that you can have?

EDIT: Apparently you can have an unlimited number of co-hosts.

1 Like

Yeah, so we could technically scale this up to larger events.

1 Like

It’s probably not helpful with-respect-to addressing the specific improvements you mentioned, but matrix.org just posted a brief guide on doing online events with matrix/https://riot.im and jitsi. The guide is more oriented toward somebody presenting to a group rather than a bunch of people being able to cross-talk, but the each matrix room can be associated with a Jitsi conference-call with all room members with 2 button presses.

Running through the list of improvements based on my own knowledge of matrix/riot and where it would help:

  • Running a central “lobby” room with links to other breakout rooms would be easy to setup but not automatic, and wouldn’t require the moderator to be “in” them at all times.
  • No pre-registration to move between rooms would be required with matrix.
  • New rooms can be quickly and dynamically created by anyone; not just organizer.
3 Likes

The julia Zulip community also has Jitsi Meet, Google Hangouts and Zoom integration built in.

The way it could work in Zulip is we’d just make a Hackathon stream (like a Slack Channel) and then make topics (kinda like Slack more powerful versions of Slack threads) for each “room” and then all you need to do is press like two buttons to create a video-call on whatever service available for that topic. People can then just switch between topics and join the various calls separately without having to have dedicated people acting as switch-boards.

Wouldn’t that be better than manually managing breakout rooms from within Zoom?

The other advantage of using the Julia Zulip for this is that we have a sizeable community of people who use it on a daily basis and can help others. We’ve been consistently getting around a hundred unique active users per day for a little while now.

9 Likes

I just heard about this hackathon through the automatic summary assembled by the JuliaLang discourse platform. Now I’m super sorry I didn’t knew about it when it happened!

How can I stay up to date about future hackathons? Any chance that future editions are advertised via the JuliaLang summary?

1 Like

There is https://julialang.org/community/

1 Like

I would also follow @JuliaLanguage on Twitter to stay up to date!