HackFest 2012 Summary
April 16, 2012, 1 p.m. (updated: April 16, 2012, 3:43 p.m.)
During the weekend I participated as a mentor in a programming competition called HackFest 2012. A couple of thoughts on the event.
The event was unusual in the fact that there were three concurrent venues gathering competitors: Poznań, Bielsko-Biała and online. Having those posibilities drew more people to the competition that it would have with only a single venue. It does somehow increase complexity of organising such an event but in general I think it's a terrific idea. I would like to see more of that next year.
I was physically at the Poznań venue which was actually in Eureka Technology Park, a couple of kilometers outside the city. I find it really nice, much better suited for a 48-hour long competition that the typical conference venue. The buildings are completely new and it shows, both in good and bad ways. The commute was a bit challenging as well, as several participants pointed out. All in all though, the place is gorgeous and plays really well with events like HackFest.
This is actually the second time I was mentoring at HackFest. It was really heart-warming to see how many people returned. With better ideas and better prepared. There was also quite a bit of fresh blood so the experience range was quite wide this year.
Speaking of the projects, my personal highlights are:
- zabio.re - the marketing efforts for the project were made right from the start. Their Facebook fanpage already gathered over 150 fans. Plus I find the idea appealing: carpooling with known co-passengers, addressed mostly to students, with some twists towards ad-hoc trips. Their minimalistic UI is another advantage. I think it's a strong contender to win the competition this year.
- crowd|authors - this is one of the online projects. I liked how it was presented during the Skype interviews and the idea is quite cool. Also, I can somehow identify myself with one man armies and this project was done by a single fellow, Tomasz Sobczak.
- Slicecook - what can I say? I think everybody who did a non-trivial Web application has had this problem. A curated marketplace for PSD to HTML conversion? Sign me up already.
- WebGrid - another one man army, this one by Kasper Warguła. The inspiration comes from a shiny portfolio which was unfortunately Flash-based. Kasper develops an open-source HTML5 version of that. This is not something I think could be easily sold. But. Finishing, releasing and maintaining this kind of thing is Godsend in terms of a developer's resume. So in the end I believe Kasper will win with this anyway. Unless he gives up faced with Internet Explorer or smartphones.
A honorable mention goes to the youngest team on board, PowerMergers, who tried to implement a Sticky Kanban Board in Python and Django, learning both technologies from scratch. Kudos for courage and the proper choice of tech ;)
If I may to grumble a bit, there were things I didn't particularly like. The big one is the timing. At just the same time there were two other interesting events happening in Poland: HackWAW and meet.php. The concept of the former is just about the same as HackFest's, whereas meet.php was held in Poznań, the same city as the bigger of the two physical HackFest venues. Both those things make it the more disappointing. I would very much like to see this kind of problem go away next year because it directly impacts the number of people participating, media coverage and overall reception.
What happens next
Voting for the projects just started and will last for a week. Go see for yourself and pick your own favourites. After the voting some projects will win, some won't and all will come back to normal. Or will it?
This kind of event is in its core quite disruptive. As we already can see, people come back a year later completely changed. The HackFest experience is what causes people to actually start believing they can shape their future on their own.
Actually, I have an itch to go and develop something of my own next year, as a participant like any other. To stand on the other side of the fence, to face critique and compliments, to show others how it's done.
A couple of words to the participants
Say your project was actually lame. The idea was weak and your implementation sucks. There were people pointing out every problem with your project. It's easy to lose this initial spark of enthusiasm. Don't. Your project sucked but you didn't. You rocked. Standing there, ready to be criticised by others and openly showing your current capabilities is a sign of priceless courage. Creating something is not easy, it's just that the best of us make it look like it's easy. Don't fret. You're already one of the few. Practice and come back stronger next year.