Gurpreet is the Tech Lead for the Humanitarian Software Program (HSP) at Thoughtworks. Read his account on how Thoughtworks, as part of the Organizing Team, helped drive the All Women Hackathon at the Grace Hopper Women in Technology Conference for the second consecutive year, successfully. In this article, he talks about the preparation that went into making the event a success.
On November 15, 2013, more than 100 women came together, for a whole day, to code for humanity, at the Grace Hopper Conference (GHC) Hackathon in Bangalore. The diversity of the event was mind-boggling: 100 women from very diverse backgrounds and organizations worked on three different projects across multiple technology stacks. And they achieved a lot!
For any successful event, a lot of unseen work happens in the background. GHC Hackathon was no different. Six months before the event, organizers of the hackathon had started formulating plans. We, at Thoughtworks, had helped in organizing the 2012 GHC Hackathon, and we wanted to ensure that this year's event was bigger and better than last year's.
Here is what conspired since May 2013 until the GHC Hackathon in November 2013:
In May 2013, the organizing team, including Thoughtworks, Yahoo, RHOK and the Anita Borg Institute, got together to discuss the feedback and learnings from the previous year’s Hackathon and to plan the next steps. As the theme for this GHC was "Together We Rise", and "Women Helping Women", we proposed MifosX as one of the Open Source projects for the hackathon. MifosX is a Free and Open Source MIS for Micro-Finance Institutions, and, historically, it is predominantly women who have benefitted from micro-credit. MifosX is also one of the projects adopted under the Humanitarian Software Program (HSP) initiative of Thoughtworks. We chose MifosX to help expose participants to the Open Source ecosystem, so that once they are done with the hackathon, they feel more confident and empowered to contribute to Open Source projects.
A couple of weeks down the line, AllScripts, who also joined the organizing committee, suggested a Clinical Reminder Application to be built from scratch as part of the hackathon, and we decided to go with it. It would be a technology neutral option for people from different backgrounds.
RHOK decided to pitch in a SecureMap application, for mapping safe places for women on a map, as an extension to the Bachao mobile application. We decided a mobile application would provide a good mix to the existing list of projects, and since Bachao is an application to help women in distress, it would make for a suitable project.
Project Task Identification
Once the projects were finalized, it was time to chalk out the tasks to be played out during the hackathon.
As MifosX is an Open Source Project, with a vibrant community already in place, we pitched the idea of its participation in the hackathon to the MifosX community. The enthusiastic community actively began identifying features and tasks which could potentially be played in the hackathon. We created a Trello board to track the stories, and slotted them by complexity: Small, Medium, and Large. This classification was done so that participants could pick up tasks based on their comfort level and experience.
We were expecting about 25-30 participants per project, and we wanted them to pair on a task. Pairing is an XP practice followed in Thoughtworks, that helps coders stay engaged and network with others while producing high quality work.
For the Clinical Reminder application, AllScripts created a document with process flows and Mockups (Web & Mobile) to help the participants understand the expected functionality, and to give them some direction.
The SecureMap application too was being written from scratch, and high level features were identified by folks from RHOK.
Communication and preparation for the final week
We felt the need to engage with the participants at least two weeks in advance of the event, to help them understand the projects and get excited about the Hackathon. In this regard we took two steps.
1. We created a Google Group for the event, and encouraged all participants to join the group as part of their hackathon confirmation process. The google group then became our channel for welcoming the participants, sending setup steps for the projects, giving them guidelines and logistic details on preparing for the event, and a forum for them to raise their concerns and questions around the event.
2. We conducted a Fuze Webinar a few days earlier, for all participants to familiarize themselves to the projects and understand what is planned for the hackathon. The organizers of each of the projects gave a brief overview of the project and the tech stack in the webinar. There was also a Group Chat window available for attendees to ask questions to the organizers. We had recorded the Fuze session and made it available online for the participants to see at their convenience.
3. Based on our experience last year at the Hackathon, we knew that many attendees come without the softwares pre-installed. Therefore, we prepared about 15+ USB pen drives with all softwares needed for the hackathon like Java, MySQL, Git, third party Jars, IDEs, etc along with steps to be followed to perform a minimal-Internet based install. This would help speed up setup, and also reduce the load on the Internet. We also carried five laptops pre-configured with MifosX, so that folks who had difficulty setting up their own laptops, or had other organizational restrictions, could use our laptops. And, all laptops came handy on the final day!
There were 10 volunteers from Thoughtworks for the MifosX project, and we also invited Vishwas Babu and Nayan Ambali from Conflux to join us at the Hackathon. Conflux has been working on Mifos since the last 4 years with various MFIs. Having them around to share their experiences on micro-credit, helped enthuse more credibility to MifosX.
AllScripts came with a Medical Doctor as a domain specialist.
Overall, for the event, there were more than 20 volunteers helping out the 100+ women in answering questions around features and technology.
The organizing team met up at the Hackathon venue a day before the event. The idea was to get familiar with the venue, and to ensure that seating arrangement was conducive to hacking. Just like every Thoughtworks office, we had requested for a dining table setup. A dining table seating arrangement promotes an Open hacking environment, where team members sit around a dining table, and can quickly communicate with each other across the table. We also checked arrangements for whiteboards, projectors, wall for putting up tasks, food, snacks, coffee/tea, extension boards, wifi, registration counter, etc...
This venue meetup was also an opportunity for the whole organizing team to meet face-to-face for the first time! After the meeting, we were ready for the next day -- the Hackathon!
The Hack Day
The organizing team reached the venue by 8 am, an hour before the event. They setup their respective areas, checked the Wifi and pasted task cards on the wall. All participants were free to choose the project of their liking, and miraculously, all of them split equally into the three projects. We kicked off the hackathon with brief introductions to the projects, and then people signed up for the tasks and self organized themselves into mini groups to hack away. There were a few glitches with the Internet post lunch, since instead of the planned 90+ people, we now had almost 120+ laptops on the internet. Still, overall, the event went very smooth.
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Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.