Running a two month long hackathon on automation

When work first asked me to run a hackathon, I couldn’t believe my luck. Having recently taken part in a SheHacks event I was keen to try this format for myself. But two months long?! This was going to be a challenge. We dubbed it AutoHack18.

The long-form length was necessary because the event was a collaboration with Ciena and hackers would need to build their prototype on Ciena’s automation platform, Blue Planet. Some training would need to be in the mix.

Also, the event was going one step further than the average hackathon – beyond the pitch to an actual prototype or live demonstration. It was fascinating to see how the rankings changed between our first pitching event – where there were prizes and advantages for the winning team – and the grand final event.

Those best at pitching weren’t always the best at building to a deadline. Those who won the first round and gained advantages didn’t win the grand prize.

nuts and bolts of the hackathon

We had an overwhelming amount of registrations that lessened (thankfully) to a manageable number of hackers by the start of AutoHack on 1 December 2017. We sorted them into seven teams.

There were eight individual events that made up the hackathon, including induction, training, open lab sessions, and pitch nights. Several stakeholders needed to be kept up-to-date, plus a team of mentors and the hackers themselves. There were brochures, and posters, and info packs to be designed, approved and printed. I’m not going to kid you, it was a lot of work.

The hackathon also ran across the holiday period, from Dec-Feb, to accommodate that all our hackers were university students. I cannot express enough gratitude to everyone involved in keeping this complex colossal creature of an event running smooth and on time. It was an absolute team effort. 

Then there was media coverage to organise and that’s when I picked up my microphone, of course. Podcaster for life, yo.

AutoHack18 podcast

On 1 February 2018 the final four teams of hackers met for the AutoHack18 Grand Final. Each had to pitch and demonstrate an innovative automation idea that produced positive social impact.

They had all been working hard for two months over their summer holidays and each team had produced something worthy of a prize. But there is only one winning team.

Me and my mic were there to capture the tension and the glory. The resulting podcast was published by Networked Society Stories. Click on the player at the top of this story to get it in your ears.


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