Choose the right venue
Whenever possible your venue and hotel/hostel should be in the same building or in very close walking distance. This creates a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere while at the same time allowing people to be more productive. Ideally your working space will be open 24 hours if the accommodation is in the same building or at least open until midnight and starting from 6am if not, especially with jet lag or if they are on a roll, some people like to work through the night.
Check out this Learning Pattern for how to find your ideal venue: m:Grants:Learning patterns/Step by step guide for finding the right venue for a conference
Wifi is the most important aspect of a hackathon
- If you have a room, food and wifi, you can have a hackathon. Without wifi, there can be no hackathon.
- Wifi is the most important aspect of a Hackathon. If the quality of the wifi connection is poor during your event, it will not be a success. Unless there is an IT/connectivity expert on your organizing team, it is recommend to hire or get help from an expert outside of your team.
- This should be a top priority when picking an venue.
- In some cases you will need to work with an outside vendor to boost the wifi capacity.
Consider setting up a second wifi-network
- What will you do if your initial wifi network goes down? Can you ensure you have enough mifis onsite?
- For the Wikimedia Hackathon 2017 in Vienna, the organizer team from WMAT contracted a company to set up a second wifi network in addition to the network already provided at the conference hotel. This made up a significant part in the budget, but the organizers considered it a solid investment. They were able to get a significantly reduced price from the network-company in return for making them in-kind sponsors of the event (printing their logo on roll-ups, mentioning them in the press release, etc.). Consider to offer this to companies, if you approach them! A Wikimedia event makes for good publicity for any IT company, and they are often more likely to sponsor you with their time or services than by giving you money.
Happy technicians = happy hacking
- Connect your IT experts with the technicians from the venue - introduce them to each other and have them work out the specifics for their cooperation.
- Establish a good contact with the technicians of the venue early. Tell them a little bit about the hackathon. Even for the most conference-experienced hotels, the heavy wifi usage during a hackathon is beyond anything they would have experienced. Take some time to talk to them about the challenges. Ideally, it will encourage them to rise to the challenge!
- If you set up a second network in addition to the venues network (no matter if you hire a company for this task or do it yourself), make sure to pay extra attention to mediating between the technicians of *both* parties. They will need to work together, and sometimes this division of power needs a little diplomacy and mediation by you, the organizer team (learning from the 2017 Vienna Hackathon).
Open the right ports
- Enquire about having the wifi connection non-restricted if at all possible or have the list of right ports opened advance of the event, we can not hack unless we have IRC, Gerrit, and other ports open.
- A list of the ports needed can be found in m:Wikimania Handbook#Hackathon requirements as well as on Phabricator: https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/T124809. This is VERY important for the success of the hackathon and is non-negotiable
IP Address Range / Network exception requests
Ask your venue for their public IPv4 and IPv6 addresses that attendees using this wi-fi would have, once you get these ranges you will need to open respective phabricator tickets in order to request some network exceptions for services like IRC, or our own wikimedia services, you can use these as a reference:
Remove account limits
- Freenode should be notified of events, and provided IP address(es) to raise IP cap to allow people to get onto IRC (email [] with a list of IP addresses, and expected number of attendees.)
- Wikimedia Phabricator ticket should be created, with list of IP address(es) to add throttle exception for, so that new users can create accounts on WMF wikis
Rooms and set-up
Main hacking space
With power / chairs / tables for all participants. Ideally this will be one large room. We can work with multiple smaller spaces.
- Each participant will need at least one electrical outlets, often having more than one available per participant (for mobile devices) is appreciated but not mandatory.
- Participants appreciate having the outlets on top of the table (not underneath) so they don't need to crawl under the table multiple times throughout the event to plug in their devices.
- Having a stage and microphone with projector in the main hacking space is helpful for event organizers to open/close the event and make announcements.
- You need at least 10-30% more seats than participants in the main hacking spaces. People need to be free to move around and change groups easily.
Big space for opening address and closing showcase
Depending on your event and your venue, you can use the main hacking space and rearrange tables and chairs for opening and closing. If you do use the same room, plan for enough time before and after to rearrange the tables and chairs, and enough people to help with the work.
- Microphones: Preferably hand-held or lavalier - not fixed in a mic-stand - because presenters often turn towards the screen/whiteboard.
- The ability for people to quickly and easily connect their laptop to the projector. We often have a series of 1-5 minute demos and the easier and faster it is to transition between speakers the better.
- Having two of these setups (so 1 person can configure, while another presents) is ideal.
- Video recording
- Seating for all participants
Multiple breakout rooms
Between 4-6 rooms of different sizes, about 30 - 100 people fitting in each room.
Each room needs:
- one power outlets per seat (ideal, but not mandatory)
- Chairs and table space / classroom setup and U shape are the best options
- A projector (with the ability to connect with all types of laptops) and someone on call to help trouble shoot projector connection issues.
- One or more microphone(s)
- Professional video Recording. It is nice to have at least one of the breakout rooms staffed with somebody who can record sessions for later publication.
Breakout rooms are especially needed for presentations and discussions/workshops with large-groups.
However, be careful about splitting too many activities into breakout rooms. For many activities, using a dedicated table in the main room can work best. (1) If an attendee is searching for someone specific, then it is easiest to look around a single room. They might give up if they have to search many rooms. (2) If a topic area is split out into a subroom (e.g. a documentation sprint) then the room might be empty at any given moment - this can lead to a reduced chance of drop-in activity, because there's an implied pressure to contribute for long periods, or to only enter the room if intending to participate.
24hr hacking space
Many people prefer to work at night, give them the option to do so. If you can not keep the whole venue open, make sure that there is at least one larger room accessible for 24hrs. Otherwise your chosen hotel should have a very nice communal space and reliable wifi.
If your accommodation is in a different location than the venue, consider moving the 24 hour space to a room in the hotel or the hotel lobby if that is workable. Make this official / newcomers should know where to go.
A place for people to chill and retreat from the buzz of the event, ideally with comfortable couches. Please read chapter Diversity for details.
You may also consider comfortable lounge chairs or bean bags where people can nap to recover from jet-lag without leaving the venue.
Do some research into accessibility for introverts at conferences.
Give the little ones and their caretakers a designated place to play and be nursed. This includes an indoor space, but can be an additional outdoor playground, too. Please read chapter Diversity for details.
Where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. Check with your venue whether it's okay if people take food outside of the restaurant area and into the hacking spaces. If it is not allowed, consider hanging up signs to kindly ask participants to stay within the restaurant area to eat. Keep in mind that snacks (as opposed to lunch and dinner) should be available at multiple snack stations close to the hacking spaces.
It is very important to have an efficient method of food service (ie. multiple stations, self-service, access from both sides of table?), your participants won't be very happy if they need to wait in line for long periods of time in slow moving lines.
Think about all the spaces where participants could just hang out with each other when they're not working. Consider outdoor spots – there's always a few smokers – and indoor possibilities. This can be combined with the restaurant area, but should be separate from the other areas.
Bonus points if you can get simple game tables or other fun activities for people to do while taking breaks
People love table soccer, jenga, puzzles, board games, pianos, etc.
Provide one or more gender-neutral bathrooms. This is mandatory if you are trying to provide a diverse-friendly space. You should also make sure to provide at least one Male and Female separated bathrooms.
Video recording for the showcase is most important. We would like at least one if not two of our breakout rooms to have video recording as well during the two days of the Hackathon.
This allows a much larger community outside of the Hackathon to benefit from the sessions.
It's a good idea to give the responsibility for this task to someone who is *not* involved in the organization of the opening and closing, because they will be very busy. This is a rather self-contained task and therefore great to be assigned to someone outside of the core organizer team.
Have a help desk near the entrance to your event that is staffed during the entire event. Have a flexible volunteer schedule so that one person can stay at the help desk. Event attendees will have lots of questions, and it will be nice for them to have a known place to go. It can serve as the "Lost & Found" site. Having a staffed help desk at your event is very important. Many Hackathon participants will need help and have questions during the event.
If your help desk is removed from a hacking area, consider staffing it with at least two people at a time so that they don't get board and lonely.
Things a help desk should be prepared to help with:
- Directions to a grocery store
- It is nice to have local maps and public transportation options available
- Directions to a pharmacy
- Directions to an Electronics store
- Directions to an ATM
- A printer
- A number for Taxis
- Medicine onsite: pain killers, stomach settlers, decongestants, first aid supplies
- Emergency Information
- Closest Hospital
- Closest Embassys
- On call Doctors
Things and people at the help desk
- Keep a basket of free monitor wipes, or other screen-cleaning products.
- It is nice to have multiple language support at the desk
- Put a trash can at the help desk
- All the tech problems will be reported to the help desk
- Extra adaptors and phone chargers
- post-its, paper and pens (on a cord if you want to keep them).
- Have roaming volunteers asking people who look lost if they need help
- There are questions all day long
Typical Example Questions:
- Can you help my print/scan something/photo copy?
- Where is the closest pharmacy/public transportation stop/electronics store/market/bank/cigarettes?
- Questions about the event schedule and rooms, where are they?
- How to get to the airport?
- Where is the bathroom?
- Shuttles / transportation if relevant
- Breakout room locations / sessions
- Everyone wants extra badges, stickers, buttons, and schedules.
- People will ask where other event attendees are
- fun fact: we once even helped someone find a local tattoo parlor
Make sure some of these are on your wall postings and on the website as well to avoid overloading the helpdesk.
Help people get oriented and figure out how to navigate the event
Examples of things that can be posted
- Maps of the venue
- Social media information (commons category, IRC channel: #WMHack, twitter, telegram, etc)
- Logistics Schedule (Reminder: Don't print the session schedule in advance, it will change all the time)
- Wifi information
- It is also nice to have a whiteboard or paper flipchart at the questions desk/reception area that you can use to make announcements about changes/social events.
- Friendly Space Policy / Code of Conduct reporting team
A big wall or pin board, where everyone can write down a skill they have, and how others can contact them, if they need help. This was used at the Wikimedia Hackathon 2017 Vienna.
There is usually also a virtual skill share board on Phabricator
Hacking Table Labels
Hackers working in small groups need to have a way to non-verbally communicate to others which topic they'd like to discuss or what they are working on when the hacking begins (so they are not interrupted by questions in moments which require focusing).
Here are some examples from past hacking events
Ideally each table will have a number or name so that it is even easier to communicate where people are working and on what. As an example, someone can say on IRC that they are working on "mobile development at table 6" and table 6 will also have a sign that says "mobile development"
- If you choose to go with paper signs instead of whiteboards, print out multiple signs for each table. Sometimes the topic at the table changes.
- If you choose paper, a black marker is more visible than a green pen line. People need to read the signs from a distance.
- If you choose to use whiteboards, provide more than one color so that participants can have fun with their sign and get creative and artistic.
- In 2016, WMIL created some small tabletop whiteboards and passed them on to WMAT for the 2017 event, which will be passed onto Amical Wikimedia for the 2018 Wikimedia Hackathon in Barcelona. This is a nice tradition to continue!
- You might also provide larger posters for people to put on the walls close to where they are seated.
More "great to have" items
based on feedback from previous events:
- Avoiding disruptions nearby - e.g. loud music playing during working times.
- Bring extra computers, some event attendees don't bring their own computers and would like to use one
Checklist for the Wikimania Hackathon
The Wikimania Hackathon is an annual two day event which takes place during the Wikimania Pre-Conference.
|Main hacking space||With power / chairs / tables for all participants. Ideally this will be one large room. We can work with multiple smaller spaces.||During the two days of the hackathon. Open as late as possible into the evening. Ideally 24h|
|Additional breakout space.||We need between 4-6 rooms of varying sizes (30 - 120 people fitting in each room). One of these rooms will be a quite room which does not need a projector. The rest need projectors for presenters and their laptops. All rooms need lots of power outlets.||During the day time of the two main hackathon days. Not many sessions take place at night.|
|Hackathon opening space||Stage, mic, video recording, seating for all participants||During the first day opening of the event which generally lasts for about 2 hours.|
|Hackathon Showcase||The hackathon showcase is a presentation during the main Wikimania event in the Wikimania program. This showcase generally gets between 75 - 115 participants (more if Wikimania grows in size). We need a stage, mic, video recording, a projector, a/v switch for one participant to present while the next can be setting up, wifi.||Ideally late morning or early afternoon on Sunday of Wikimania.|
|24 hour hacking space||This is a room fitting 50-150 people which is open 24 hours between the start of the pre-conference through the end of Wikimania. Hackers continue their projects thoughout the event, work, and meet. There should be coffee, water, snacks and if possible beer in the evening.||Tuesday morning - Sunday evening 24 hours.|
|Video recording||Video recording for the showcase is most important. We would like at least one if not two of our breakout rooms to have video recording as well during the two days of the Hackathon. This allows a much larger community outside of Wikimania Hackathon to benefit from the sessions.||During the hackathon, during the showcase.|
|Open Ports||These ports need to be open https://phabricator.wikimedia.org/T124809 This is VERY important for the success of the hackathon and is non-negotiable.||Entire Wikimania and entire pre-conference.|
|Boosted wifi||hackathon users need much faster and stronger wifi than the average wikimania attendee. Adding more access points and directing a higher percentage of the bandwidth to the hacking space is greatly appreciated.||During the hackathon. Also helpful in the 24h hacking space.|
|Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner||Don't forget to feed the hackers!||During the hackathon at meal times|
|Coffee, water, tea, snacks||Don't forget to feed and caffeinated the hackers! If there will be any times when water, coffee, and some small snack will not be available warn people in advance.||24 hours during the hackathon, if that is not possible then during the opening hours of your venue.|
|Hackathon specific social event||Organize something fun for the hackathon participants to do together, seperate from the rest of the pre-conference. This helps to solidify the hackathon as its own event and helps encourage hackers meeting each other and discussing their projects||These can be held multiple times and at any time. Different people will prefer breaks at different times.|
|Table Signs||Please don't forget this!! We need at least 20. More is better. Consider rolling white boards and flip charts spread out around the hacking space for people to use as they like with their groups. Post-its everywhere is great too.||All days!|