Inaugural OpenHackPHX, A Postmortem

June 25, 2013

I organized the very first OpenHackPHX this past Thursday, and all-in-all, it turned out to be a pretty solid event. It seemed like everyone had a great time, and a lot of people asked me when the next one was going to be, which is always a good sign. I thought I'd take a moment to write up my thoughts and a quick postmortem on the event.

The Format

As expected, doing introductions was key. It gave attendees a chance to ask for help, and knowing what people were working on and who they were encouraged socializing. Going in to this, I expected the intros to really be the cornerstone of OpenHack, and I think that was confirmed here. Even if you're hanging out with people you already know, talking about what you're working on is useful.

After the introductions, I basically just let the event run itself. If people had specific questions or comments for the group, they voiced them in the intros, so I didn't think I needed to do anything else. That turned out to be pretty true as well. That makes OpenHack pretty easy and enjoyable to run, since all the work is put in before the event, so I can actually enjoy the fruits of that labor.

I was hoping to see some people teaming up for projects, and while this didn't happen in the first OpenHack, I'm still hopeful that will occur in the future.

Attendance

There were 25-30 people that came by, definitely on the high side of my expectations. I knew maybe half of the attendees from other groups, but it was great to meet developers I wouldn't find in my normal circles. Skill sets and interests were all over the place, and the youngest attendee I think was 15! (UPDATE: he's 14, it was @hoobdeebla)

One of my main goals with OpenHack was to get a healthy mix of different developers to hang out, so I hope that continues.

Attendance Management and Communication

I refuse to organize this on Meetup, and the only form of communication I was planning to stick with was Twitter. This meant I had no way to track or anticipate attendance, other than Twitter activity. I got several re-tweets from other Phoenix developers, developer groups, and from Heatsync Labs, which helped a lot, but I have a feeling that Twitter wasn't a great platform for this and that I'll need to find something else to at least use in conjunction.

Luis emailed the Phoenix GDG, which I really appreciated, and I know from talking to attendees was also responsible for some of the headcount. I also cross-posted this to PhxTagSoup, but the only people from that group that showed up were people that also re-tweeted it, so I won't bother with that again.

I've since started a mailing list to help announce future OpenHacks, and created and published an email address to give people another way to contact me with any questions, but this still leaves no channel for communication among attendees. I'm considering trying to follow the BeerJS model for communication in the future, or I may work on building a simple RSVP/comment tool at a future OpenHack. I like the idea of leveraging existing and free tools for this though...

Location

Running it out of Heatsync Labs was fantastic! I was a little worried about there not being enough room for everyone, and while we did have a little bit of a chair shortage, everything seemed to have worked out well overall.

Heatsync Labs is a hackerspace collaborative workshop that is nearly guaranteed to have something for everyone. It was a lot of fun to be around people doing 3D printing, manning electronics workbenches, running the laser cutter and even doing metal and woodworking in addition to all the developers that came by for OpenHack. It was a unique experience that I'm sure we won't be able to replicate anywhere else.

For a lot of people, it was their first visit to Heatsync, and it made me really happy that I was responsible for that first visit. Huge thanks to the Iceddev guys for helping with the space this time around, and for being so open to showing off the Lab.

Sponsorship

For this event, I reached out to the local State Farm guys about sponsoring. They've been attending more and more meetups and user groups in the valley and seem genuinely interested in what is happening here and in helping out, and for a company of their size, that's really awesome to see. I figured they would be willing to help out with this group, and luckily I turned out to be right.

Huge thanks to State Farm for the pizzas and sodas! And huge thanks for not abusing the privilege of addressing the group too. If you're a Java and/or web developer in the valley and you're looking for a job or career change, check them out. They're just about to wrap up construction on a new facility here and are looking to bring on an astounding 80 developers to their team.

Time

Most people stuck around until about 9:00pm or so. A few stayed even later (I didn't leave until about 12:30am), but that turned out to be a good time to wrap things up. Even though it officially kicked off at 6:30pm, a lot of people didn't show up until around 7:00pm, so I held off doing introductions until then. I think that worked out well and will likely be a format I stick to.

My plan right now is to keep doing it on Thursdays. I'll probably play around with the day of the week from time to time though, just to see what people think and how it affects attendance.

Getting Things Done

One thing I heard, almost universally, was that few people managed to get any real work done, but they enjoyed the event nonetheless. I expected to see more actual work get accomplished (and get some done myself), but I'm not sure it was a bad thing that that didn't happen.

I expect that as we have more of a "regular" crowd, people will focus more on working than socializing. Only time will tell if that's the case, but even if that doesn't happen, as long as attendees get value out of attending OpenHack, mission accomplished.

Broad Plans

Lastly, I want to state a couple of broad plans I have for OpenHackPHX, mostly so I have a place to point people when they ask for more info about it.

Conclusion

That's everything. I hope I can keep the momentum going and make the next one just as successful. Thanks again to everyone who helped make OpenHack happen, and if you're interested in helping out, know of a space we could use for future OpenHacks or would like to sponsor one, please contact me.

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