MLH's Hackathon Organizer Guide is designed to make sure that the first time hackathon organizers and even the experienced ones, all get something out of it. We tried to formulate all the best practices we have seen over the years into a single guide that can help anyone who wants to put together an awesome event, with or without MLH's direct support. This includes information for 2 main types of events, In-Person and Digital.
An In-Person event requires everyone be at the location of the event for judging. It may have "digital" aspects (streaming workshops due to limitations of the workshop room size, having a communication platform like Discord for announcements, etc) but the majority of the event will take place in person. Hackers are free to come and go (common if they live nearby), but every hacker shows up in person for check-in and judging. There is no shipping of swag/prizes after the event because they are given out that weekend. Food/Snacks and a venue exist for an in-person event.
A Digital event can be global. While it may be marketed towards certain schools near the host, anyone with an internet connection can participate within the timeframe of the event. These often have videos used for judging, or have a room setup for each team in Discord for live judging, but there is no in-person aspect for food/judging. If shipping/prizes are limited to a certain country the FAQ on the hackathon website and rules on Devpost should clearly state limitations.
This season MLH is recommending that our Member Event hackathons choose between being a fully digital or fully physical hackathon. We are still accepting applications for hybrid events, but we have seen over the past year that hybrid events are worse for both organizers and hackers. Organizers struggle to coordinate two events simultaneously (a well run digital hackathon is more than just a Discord!). Running an in person event while juggling a Discord can stretch your team very thin. Digital hackers end up feeling left out at hybrid events, and have a less impactful experience.
Some examples that make hackers feel left out with Hybrid events:
- An in person workshop runs late and virtual participants are not notified of the schedule change to accommodate. Or certain workshops are in-person only due to AV issues. Or the AV is hard to hear, at a bad angle, or does not interact with the virtual attendees.
- Delay in communication to virtual attendees on check-in process because the team is busy checking in people in-person
- Less digital engagement than in-person due to limited time in the schedule. We often see more in-person side activities than digital.
- Virtual participants get less interactions with sponsors who are prioritizing their in person table.
- Judging being felt as inconsistent/biased because virtual participants can not answer questions like the teams in person doing a science fair style presentation.
- Judging is run as fully digital despite the majority being in person. Most hackers prefer in person judging over making a video, but some events judge only by video.
- Swag only being for in person attendees- Sponsor and event swag.
- Some virtual attendees gave feedback that they would have liked to have Uber Eats code or similar for food. While this would not be feasible for most event budgets, it is another aspect that feels unfair for the different attendees.
- More giveaways in person than digital
- Collaborating across digital vs in person can be difficult.
- Prizes/swag being shipped and also given out in person can be harder to track and fulfill
These do not encompass all of the issues we have seen, but are just a few of the more common items that make a hybrid event less impactful.
We want your event to focus on being the best event possible for your attendees. This might mean having a smaller in person event you can fully support, but you can use that to grow each year to a larger event size. There are alternative events available for those who can only participate virtually, we encourage you to focus on making the biggest impact you can for the hackers you have at your event.