Monday, March 22, 2010

Zurihac: some critique

Zurihac, a Haskell hackathon hosted this time in Zurich by Google, has just ended. This was the biggest Haskell hackathon so far, bringing together over 80 hackers from Europe and nearby continents.

Here are some links:

No doubt organization of such event is a great work, and we all are grateful to organizers for Zurihac becoming reality. But still I'd like to highlight some things which IMO were not thought out enough. Hopefully this list will be useful for future Hackathons organizers.

  • Accomodation Joachim Breitner wrote:
    ok, there seems to be a relatively large number of people staying at the Backpackers. Maybe we can arrange with the hostel that they know about this conference. Then we can register individually and they can just put us together in rooms? Might be more efficient that finding groups of four ourselves. Maybe the local team can talk to them and put information about that on the wiki?
    Unfortunately, this wasn't done.
  • Food There were two issues.

    First, it was too many of us to fit into one restaurant. What could be done: make a wiki page; list some nearby restaurants; make people organize themselves more or less uniformly. What was done: we were just told not to go altogether to the one place.

    Another problem: some (most?) of the restaurants were closed on Sunday. I believe that it might be easier just to call nearby restaurants and find out which are open; then repeat the procedure described above. In contrast, we were told «go there; and if it is closed, well, go somewhere else»

  • Power plugs It was a surprise for most of us that Switzerland has different powerplugs than the rest of Europe. Fortunately, the issue was resolved (personally I thank Simon Meier for lending a cable), but it would nice if we knew about problem in advance. (For instance, organizers of Utrecht hackathon last year kindly reminded us of the possible problems).
  • Duration This hackathon was almost twice as short as the Utrecht one (20 hours against 36 last year).
  • Talks For some reason, talks and demos were postponed to the Sunday evening (they were scheduled for 16.30 and if I recall correctly began around 17.00. As a result, people who had to leave early (due to their flights/trains) missed the talks.
  • Registration This one is not addressed to organizators directly, but rather to attendees. At the moment there are only 57 attendees on the wiki. It's only about 70% of the total number of registered participants. I'd like that coverage to be bigger.

So, once again — Hackathon is held, code is written and talks are given. Only these little things, when done, make a nice feeling that you are cared for. So please, next time, try to do them ;-)

It would be also interesting to hear other opinions from attendees and organizers.


Johan Tibell said...

Some corrections/comments:

Food: There are two links on the ZuriHac wiki to a map with, among other things, 15 restaurants, most of them in the surrounding area. This was also mentioned during the introduction on Friday.

Power plugs: The Europlug (the one with two pins) works just fine in the Swiss power sockets.

Talks: The talks were scheduled at the end of the event so people could show off things they hacked on during the event, which was what many of the speakers did.

Noone was getting paid by Google to organize this event. If the event was two days longer (i.e. included Wednesday-Thursday) we'd have to take (unpaid) vacation to be there and host it.

Don Stewart said...

I think these are relatively mild issues -- and something to look at at the next Hackathon.

An interesting one is the length: should we aim for 35+ hours of hacking? How could we make that possible?

Tom Harper said...

Regarding length of the hackathon: This hackathon let a lot of people take a 3 day weekend and attend the Hackathon. I, for one, would not have been able to take any more time off. I think it aligned nicely with a lot of work schedules.

Of course, the best way to get a hackathon in the format that you want is to host the next one ;)

Martijn said...

I completely agree with the duration. It was unfortunate that we couldn't start early on Friday and that we couldn't go on past 6 pm. It's not important that some people wouldn't have been able to hack so many hours: everyone is free to join/leave whenever they want.

Roman Cheplyaka said...

Re food: here I'm talking not about lack of information, but about lack of
coordination. In principle, it's not hard for us to organize ourselves (i.e.
everyone can create wikipage and ask others to distribute themselves over the
restaurants). In practice, though, someone really need to give this momentum,
and who if not organizers?

Re talks. I'm comparing with last year's hackathon in Utrecht. Talks were not
only in the noon, and not on the third day, but on the second. I'm
not arguing that early is better, but we should think about people who may need
to leave earlier.
Would it hurt if the talks would be given on the Sunday noon? I think the only
talk which was based on the most recent work was darcs patch manager, and even
in this case I'm not sure if it was impossible to prepare the demo by the noon.
Take Don's contest as an example. Although by evening we could possibly have
more releases on hackage, but if you put a deadline then people can still adapt
to it.

Re duration. Again comparing to Utrecht hackathon, it was also just Friday to
Sunday, but we were able to work from 10a.m. to 10p.m. Perhaps there were some
technical restrictions which didn't allow the same at Google.

As a conclusion: I didn't mean to judge anyone (until I haven't organized
hackathon myself), just putting my thoughts (which are more like complaints) and
hoping that they will be useful for future Hackathons organizers (there are
going to be at least two more hackathons this year: American and Australian).

Lennart Kolmodin said...

Even if I share some of the criticism, I still think this was one of the very best hackathons ever.

About the accommodation there was some coordination on the mailing list.

The food could maybe have been organized a bit better. During previous hackathons we've even brought the lunch to the event and encouraged people to stay together.
We have also pre-booked restaurants and pubs to make sure it'd fit everybody.
Although, this becomes harder though when there are 80 people registered...
There were many restaurants within 1.5km, also on the map, but then 60 minutes is a bit tight.
Still, it worked ok for me.

I too learned only about the power plug when I arrived. Fortunately it wasn't an issue for me because I got to borrow a cable from a Google employee. Previously the info has been on the wiki, yes.
Maybe MacBooks have the smaller two-pin plug, but my thinkpad does not, nor does any other laptop I've had.

About the duration, I was surprised that it didn't start until 2pm on the Friday. 10am would have worked too for me.
I took two days of vacation for ZuriHac, and I don't regret it. I also took a day free when I was organizing the hackathon in Göteborg.
I think it's ok that the first day clash with normal work hours.
If you can't make it to 10am the first day of the hackathon, then don't come until the afternoon.

I enjoyed the event so much and the time went quickly. Unfortunately I had to leave at 3pm on Sunday afternoon, and missed all the talks. I really did try to stay as long as possible, and still wasn't home until 11pm. There is no way I could have stayed until 6pm.
Perhaps they could be scheduled in the morning while more people are still there?

All in all, the important stuff was there; good room, even a garden, working wireless, generous food and drinks.
I can hardly wait for the next hackathon :)