How was HackTX 2014: The Data and the Future
30 hours goes by really fast as a hackathon organizer. I’m really proud of how HackTX turned out this year. Now a month after the event, I wanted to reflect on all the parts that our team did great, some of the data behind it, and some of my goals for the future.
17 Universities and Colleges
The state of Texas covers 268,581 square miles. It is almost impossible for Texas students to travel to hackathons via bus outside of Texas, and it’s a 3–10 hour trip for the students within the state. This is why we choose to provide a free bus to any student who was in a city that had at least 12 registered students within the state of Texas. Also, we did this because we want to see the Texas hackathon scene grow.
Out of the 17 universities and colleges represented at HackTX, 13 of them were from within the state. There were 5 buses from 6 different Texas cities: Edinburg, Houston, College Station, Dallas, Arlington, and Richardson. In addition to Texas students, I was the most impressed by the group of students who rode up from Tecnológico de Monterrey. Although we don’t claim to be an international hackathon, we became one this year without even trying. Check out the map of where all the attendees came from: http://bit.ly/hacktxmap.
Impact on Texas Collegiate Hackathon Community
I would be skipping a key result of HackTX if I didn’t talk about the impact that HackTX has had on the state’s collegiate (and soon to be collegiate) hackers. Since HackTX’s start in 2012, we have had the opportunity to touch the lives of hackers all over the state.
This year we had the highest number of universities and colleges attend HackTX than ever before due to a long term commitment to helping the Texas scene. Since Texas is so spread out it is difficult to attend hackathons at each of our universities and colleges on a regular basis. It has even influenced high school hackers who want to attend hackathons in the state despite not being able to admit them to our own event. Many of them have started their own clubs and events. We have also helped out high school hackathons like School’s Out Hackathon. HackTX should not just be about The University of Texas at Austin. It should be about the entire state and even some of its neighbors. For some Texas students, HackTX was their first hackathon they could easily travel to.
It has brought together other student organizers to start more Texas hackathons. In 2015, there will be university hackathons in at least 5 Texas cities. It was also awesome to get to work with Rafa Moreno from Texas A&M, Adil Shaikh from UT Dallas, Austin Wells from SMU, and Vicente Valle Martinez from UT Pan American. You really get to meet awesome hackers and organizers while doing outreach.
60% First Time Hackers
This leads us to another key point about the event: Out of the students that registered for HackTX, 60% had never attended a hackathon before. With our focus on the state of Texas, I think we have reached students who before were left out in previous outreach efforts the last 3 hackathons. I think that says a lot about the event this year. I attribute this percentage to a welcoming marketing effort by the team. We reached out to freshmen groups, women’s organizations, random but slightly related clubs, and more. We tried to make those who we reached out to feel safe to ask questions about the event.
This year’s event wasn't a freshmen or sophomore heavy event either. First time hackers were distributed across all registrations too and not just concentrated in younger students. Typically, younger students are the ones we target for our outreach efforts when it comes to first time hackathon attendees, but we were happy to see we were able to reach out to a lot of different students.
Also, after reading over our Feedback Surveys we received a lot of positive feedback from first time hackathon attendees. Many first time hackers raved about the environment, helpful attitude of others, the amount of creativity and collaboration surrounding them, and that they loved being surrounded by people with similar interests as them.
In the future, I’d love to see more hacktorials leading up to the event for beginners. In addition, I’d really would like to see a more formal mentorship program be established that would occur during the event. I want to get sponsors away from their tables and helping students more. It is critical that beginners do not feel lost at the event.
This is about 100 more students than last year. Currently, we have no plans to expand outside of this size (500–600 students). Since we have been around for 3 years, we have had the chance to grow to be a 1,000+ student hackathon, but we have intentionally kept it below 600 to focus on the quality of the event. The team has found a lot of value in having HackTX as a medium sized hackathon. It is the best of both worlds. We have the benefits of smaller hackathons and larger ones. Students are less likely to get lost in the event with a smaller hackathon while it is nice to feel apart of larger event with a lot of energy. It was definitely awesome to setup 106 expo spots for all the teams that submitted a project at the end of the event. The energy at the expo at the end of the event was amazing!
We may be the largest university hackathon in the Southwest, but if someone wants to take the title by creating a larger and high quality hackathon we welcome them. We will be willing to offer assistance and advice from our own experiences.
Almost 18% Female Attendance
HackTX in 2012 had a horrible track record on inclusiveness. In 2013, I helped increase percent of female attendance into double digits. This year we had a higher percentage of females attend than the percentage of women who are Computer Science majors at UT Austin. (Last official numbers released: http://bit.ly/utcsdemographics11) I use Computer Science as a major to benchmark against since it is where we pull a majority of our attendees from. We still have a really long way to go. I would really like to see HackTX next year have at least 30% female and non-binary attendance combined. I'm quite convinced this is possible with more outreach.
In the past year and a half, I have been heavily involved with the efforts to help create more inclusive hackathons. I've really tried to take what I've learned from our own efforts and open the dialog across the country on the topic. Inclusive hackathons should be a team effort and not one that only a couple of people take on. There are still lots of events that do not even have 12%.
As organizers and leaders in the community, we need to open up our data and our minds to new ideas, help from other organizers, and find a way to raise empathy towards the issue.
First Register, First Confirmed
HackTX was registration, not application based. We did not need to evaluate applications and fairly decide who was allowed to attend and who was not allowed to attend. We extended almost 900 invites to registered students with over 1000 students registering before the deadline. You'd think this would give us tons of registrations from students who usually went to hackathons and were familiar with them, but this is where our outreach earlier rather than later came into play. We pushed for having an inclusive hackathon by encouraging less represented groups to sign up early. I really hope that HackTX is able to continue this form of registration in the future.
80% of Attendees are Very Likely to Recommend HackTX to a Friend
I can't explain how awesome that is. I mean, obviously 100% 5s would be great, but then organizing the event wouldn’t be a challenge. I hope the number of 2s and 3s will be zero next year and even less 4s. We can do this by ensuring no one falls through the cracks throughout the event. This can also be achieved by expanding our tutorials leading up to the event to prepare students, which we had five of this year.
Why else I thought HackTX was awesome
There is a trend in hackathons to have very homogeneous judges. This year I really tried to ask a wide range of judges to come and check out students projects. We had designers, engineers, CTOs, CEOs, community leaders, angel investors, professors, and more judging students projects. Almost half of the judges were also female.
One interested piece of data that appeared in our HackTX Feedback Survey was that out of the attendees that responded, about 27% identified as Hispanic. After doing some research, I noticed this is much higher than the national averages reported by different studies on students who are Computer Science and related majors. I would love to see above average numbers in other demographics in the future.
We tried to have some healthy and yummy food at the event. Also, I have a personal rule of no pizza at hackathons that I am a part of. My favorite snack was late night fruit, veggie, and cheese trays. Other unique meals we had were burritos, BBQ (definitely not healthy but definitely yummy), and breakfast tacos, and Amy’s Ice Cream. We definitely tried to have food that was representative of the state of Texas.
We had a huge Lego pit that helped some hackers take a short building break. The photo booth was pretty popular too and had some pretty good shots in it too. It resulted in everything from action shots of backflips to the whole group of attendees from SMU.
After reviewing the feedback surveys, lots of people mentioned how much they enjoyed the environment and atmosphere at the event. This made me very happy to hear since I feel like we really try hard to create a safe and fun environment for the event. We actually started out this year’s opening ceremony with reminding everyone (attendees, sponsors, volunteers, etc) about the Code of Conduct (http://hackcodeofconduct.org/hacktx14) as well as reminding everyone to respect their fellow hackathon attendees.
Last but not least HackTX was awesome (and possible) because of the team of organizers I got the pleasure in leading: Prakhar Garg, Bri Connelly, Matt Ebeweber, Uyviet Nguyen, Clay Smalley, Michael Scaria, Daniel Kermany, and with the added help of Niko Lazaris. We had a lot of great volunteers too. We want to also make a shout out to our friends at Major League Hacking who came to the event and helped us out as well as support us for many months before the event: Mike Swift, Jon Gottfried, and Jason Berlinsky.
HackTX has really been a huge part of my college career. It has influenced me in a lot of ways and helped me gain a lot of useful skills outside of computer science and software engineering. I hope that everyone gets the chance in college to be a part of a community that has such a huge impact on others. The best part of being a hackathon organizer is when people tell you how much you changed their college experience. It really makes me sappy. I’ll definitely find a way to stay a part of the hackathon community in the future despite passing along my lead organizer title next year and crossing stage with my diploma for my Bachelors of Science and Arts in Computer Science with Business degree in hand. It’s too bad I couldn't have minored in hackathons because I sure worked enough hours towards it.
Written with ❤ in Austin, Texas
If you want to know more about our data, how to make your hackathon more inclusive, or anything related to this post, please feel free to reach out to me at @taylor_atx.
Also, please recommend this post in support of the effort to have more open hackathon data released. As organizers we can’t only hold ourselves accountable, we must encourage others to do the same.