The fourth annual MLH Local Hack Day presented by GitHub took place a few weekends on December 2nd. This year was our biggest year yet with more than 13,000 hackers signed up to participate in over 250 12-hour hack days happening simultaneously on six continents! In this post, we’ll be sharing what made this day so successful for hackers and organizers alike so that you can create even stronger communities in your region.

1. Pre-event Planning Matters


Leading up to the event we experienced a lot of the same challenges that hackathon organizers face when putting on a 24 to 36 hour hackathon:

  • Getting our global MLH Local Hack Day event registration page up and running properly for all events
  • Ordering and distributing the right amount of swag for each event
  • Coming up with a day full of useful workshops, activities, and hacking time
  • Promoting the event to the right number of organizers and hackers to result in desired attendance numbers

 
We came up with a very detailed event timeline and a committee of folks to own certain responsibilities with deadlines each week.. Every week starting from August onward, we met as a team to discuss our progress and where we needed help. December 2nd quickly came and we succeeded in our two major goals of making this the largest day of student hacking ever as well as the largest number of simultaneous hack days that we’ve ever supported.

2. Locals Know How to do Community Building
In my role as Commissioner for the past 6 months, I’ve been busy working with the League team to hop on phone calls with hackathon organizers and help them put on a quality hackathon. There are so many hackathons that I don’t get to see many of these events on the day-of. MLH Local Hack Day was a special treat as I got to spend a bit more quality time with our local community leaders to see how they transformed this short day into their own. What I learned reinforced why hackathons and project-based learning is essential for the future and why we need to all continue to find find new ways to support this growing movement. At 7:30am, our CEO Swift and I drove out to our series of New York area MLH Local Hack Day visits. Our goal was to visit eight events in a span of 12 hours! We weren’t the only ones on an adventure. GitHub also rallied their Campus Experts and full-time staff to attend other MLH Local Hack Days around the world.

picture courtesy of Harshpal Singh Bhirth

Here’s what stood out at each of the events we went to:

Having a day packed with different workshops makes it less intimidating for new hackers

With our coffee in hand, our first stop was hackPHS held at Princeton High School in New Jersey. Lincoln Roth, the lead organizer, was one of the very first ones to apply to host a MLH Local Hack Day. What was neat to see here was that he set up a registration page early and had a full agenda of of amazing back to back workshops to keep students engaged throughout the day. We helped them kick off MLH Local Hack Day by taking the day to learn from each other but also meet other folks exchanging ideas on our Local Hack Day Slack groups!

 

Make sure hackers are well fed throughout the day


Our next visit was to Swift’s alma mater, Rutgers University. We arrived just in time to help Brandon Yu, the organizer, carry a few pizza boxes and share some lunch with the students. We loved how small and casual this event was. The event took place in their CS lounge on a quiet Saturday afternoon. Many students from the surrounding area had come in to learn a few basic skills and took part in some of our sponsored workshops like How to Get Started with GitHub Pages or Creating Your First Atom Plugin.

MLH Localhost workshops helped provide events content


Our next stop was Kean University where we met some familiar faces from our annual MLH Hackcon conference who were inspired to host a MLH Local Hack Day this weekend. We walked all around their beautiful campus, enjoying the fall foliage, to find the brand new engineering building where MLH Local Hack Day was being hosted. They had three MLH Localhost workshops lined up and a classroom full of first time hackers eager to learn more about CockroachDB and Docker.

Presentation matters
Surprisingly, we were still on time and quickly drove to NJIT where we met up with Rempee for her event. Not only did she successfully get enough food to feed an army, she set up a podium and projector that was easy for everyone to see whenever a speaker got up to share something. At NJIT, tables were lined up in rows and everyone was collectively working with each other to build something in just 12 hours. They had also just finished up a MLH Localhost workshop and they were such a warm and welcoming crowd to meet!

Peer to peer education is effective
It was about 1pm now and we quickly drove over to Bergen County Academies, a nearby high school. There were multiple clubs hanging out at the school that day and we couldn’t tell which one was related to MLH Local Hack Day. We saw a super excited room full of younger kids running around and thought that can’t be ours. So we found the lead organizer, we learned what they had organized, and we were blown away. The #learnbuildshare motto was strong here. These high school organizers decided that rather than hosting a hackathon for just themselves, they wanted to do it for middle school students. So they split the younger students into 4-5 different classrooms, each with a different workshop led by a high school hacker.

We saw everything from people building games in gamemaker to an Arduino LED workshop, to people learning Python, and of course back to some rowdy games of Cup Stacking! a treat to see how peers can effectively teach new skills.We felt so inspired and fueled by their energy!

Have plenty of open space for creativity
We walked away feeling re-energized by that scene. After quickly grabbing a bite at an school Italian place, we headed back into the city to Bronx Science where we met up with Jack Cook, a prolific hacker. He successfully gathered fellow hackers and reserved their library so that students could work on developing websites and games for the day.

Energy helps for the home-stretch
By now the sun had set but we had two more events to stop by. Stuyvesant High School, our next stop, was known for having one of the first ever MLH high school hackathons. At 5:30pm they were still going strong running up and down three floors of their building. Many students were scrambling to submit their projects to Devpost and getting ready for demos in the main auditorium. Chipotle burritos were happily being eaten.

Games to break up the long day help teams wind down
Our last stop was NYU Polytechnic University in downtown Brooklyn. Their MLH Local Hack Day was being held in their campus makerspace. We ended the night with them playing Virtual Reality snowball fights with the students and wrapped up our very full 12 hours of hacking.

All in all, the event was a huge success and gave organizers all over the world the confidence to continue building their local hacker communities.

What would you like to do at your next hacker event? Let us know at [email protected] or host a Localhost Hack Day at your school today!

Happy Hacking!

Chi