Getting off to a Running Start — RunIO Hackathon
The struggles and memories of organizing the first Hackathon at NIT Rourkela
What Why When?
RunIO Hackathon was the first-ever Hackathon to be conducted at the National Institute of Technology Rourkela. Opencode, the official open-source society of NIT Rourkela was the organizing club behind the event at the annual festival of the technical society of NIT Rourkela — “Innovision”. RunIO was one of the flagship events of Innovision, which had more than 200 registrations within two weeks of the opening of the date of the registration! The theme of the hackathon was “Sustainable Development”, and hence the name — “RunIO” — develop products for the long run. The event took place on the 2nd and 3rd of November 2018 as a 24 Hrs long Hackathon.
Behind the Scenes
To make a great event, you need a great team. period.
The culture of hackathons was completely new to the institute at the time and only a single club had its constitution along that line. Opencode was the official open-source society and was making plans well in advance of such an event. A team was selected as the core team consisting of the most active and enthusiastic members of the club. Different teams were made for sponsorship, management, design, and tech. With no one in any team having an experience of organizing a hackathon, it was a great learning experience for everyone. We took inspiration from different student-run hackathons across the nation and looked for their sponsors and started mailing them. Our motivation boosted when we got some replies and were sure that we were following the right direction. We followed the MLH(Major League Hacking) sponsorship email format and code of conduct. The design team came up with an intuitive brochure and we were ready for collecting funds for the hackathon!
Although we had made a lot of effort to collect funds for the event, the responses regarding the same were not as expected. We got a few replies from firms who supported us with gifts and goodies but the event would not exist without actual cash. Amidst almost no financial support GitHub came to the rescue. We found a GitHub campus ambassador who agreed to visit the campus and was able to raise some funds for the hackathon. Some local dealers advertised using the event and we got some funds from there. This was not enough for the event but now we were sure that we can have a decent enough hackathon if we kept things modest.
The biggest set back to the event came from the place we least expected: Our Institute. Finding a good enough venue for the hackathon played a key role and each workspace in the institute had its shortcomings. If one was perfect with space, it had no ventilation. On the other hand, well-ventilated places did not have arrangements for internet connection. The process for booking these places was more of a cumbersome process and a good amount of time needed to be invested in there. With some people not knowing what a hackathon was, were reluctant in providing us the room access at night for a 24Hrs event. Amidst this chaos, we had to decide fast as the dates were closing in. Hence the team decided to get a well-ventilated auditorium space with some compromise in internet connectivity. We arranged some routers later.
Food was an important aspect for the participants and we had to make sure the reliability of the dealer and at the same time making sure that it comes under the budget. We approached around a dozen nearby restaurants and caterers and selected the one with a considerable rate and reliable food quality.
All’s well that ends well!
In spite of all the struggles of organizing a completely student-run hackathon for the first time, the team successfully converted an almost distant dream into reality. Finally, it was happening and we had organized a real hackathon with a remarkable turnout and wonderful judges and speakers. In the end, we can just say that the struggle was worth the efforts we all had put in as the event was highly praised by the Dean Student Affairs who visited the event himself and distributed the prizes to the winners. There were a ton of lessons learned and rooms for improvements uncovered which we are looking forward to implementing in future hackathons. Till then, we own the memories of the first-ever student-run hackathon of NIT Rourkela.
Key takeaways for first-time organizers —
Organizing an event for the first time can be a daunting task. And a hackathon is a mammoth of a task. Here are a few key pointers from our experience that can save you from getting overwhelmed —
- Start as early as at least four months before with the sponsorships as it is the most important part of the hackathon above anything else.
- Even before going for sponsorship, make sure you have a brochure and a website ready to make potential sponsors believe that you are organizing a hackathon.
- Make sure all your emails have your school/university email ids mentioned and not personal email. This will confirm that you are a student studying at that university.
- Make sure you have a small dedicated team for every aspect of your hackathon. You need to make them believe that the success of the event depends on their hard work.
- Choosing a venue should be the second most important point in your hackathon checklist. An ideal venue should be spacious enough to accommodate all the selected participants comfortably, should be air-conditioned and full-time internet connectivity must be accessible.
- If your institute has a rigorous and complicated room booking process you may not want to be in trouble at the last moment. Make sure that your room is booked well in advance.
- Rule of thumb — Sponsorship in terms of money is always more important than that of schwag or credits so make a target of money you require as sponsorship and try to get one-third more than the target.
- Ensure good quality of food from your vendor. Never compromise food quality for less budget.
- Make sure you have enough volunteers for the events. The managers of the event might be busy or tired, hence having a dedicated team for volunteering is very important during the event.
- Lastly, make everyone feel that it's their event! The more incentivized your team feels, the more they will be willing to work for you. :)