Thursday, March 5, 2015

What the Heck is a Hackathon?

Designed by Adrian DeBarros

Last night I spoke on the panel What the Heck is a Hackathon? at Women Who Code Denver, and had a wonderful time.

But to be honest, when Kelly invited me to be on the panel, I wasn't sure what I got myself into. You see, I have seen many bad panels. The panelists showed up without any preparations, so instead of an insightful discussion, it was just a bunch of people spewing unorganized thoughts on stage.

Fortunately the panel last night was not like that. Far from it. The panel was very well put together, educational and entertaining all at once.

So, what makes a good panel? Contrary to popular belief, it's the moderator, not the panelists. True, the panelists are the ones talking most of the time, but the preparation before the event makes all the difference, and the moderator is in charge of that.

Kelly was a fantastic moderator. Here is what she did:

  • Invite panelists with various backgrounds
  • Send questions to the panelists ahead of time
  • Highlight the unique experience of a panelist by asking a question specific to one person
  • Contrast the different perspectives of all the panelists by having all the panelist answer the same question

There were 5 of us on the panel. Some are hackathon participants, others are judges. Some are developers, others are subject matter experts. We all received questions a week before the event, and were invited to add more. I was asked to define the different types of hackathons since I did that in my Ignite talk on hackathons at Google I/O, but everyone got to answer questions like "Why do you attend hackathons?"

A good moderator curates the content by assembling panelists with complementary skills, let them know what will be discussed ahead of time, and directs the flow of the conversation. The hackathon panel hits all these points, and it was a real pleasure to share my experience and learn from the other panelists at the same time.

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