2 hour hackathons might be the sweet spot

This post comes as a reflection of my experiences and observations conducting events.

When we were helping girls apply to GHCI scholarship, I travelled to MEC, TOCH, NIT Calicut and CET, Trivandrum.

These could easily be divided to two cases.

At MEC, TOCH, CET, the event had about 2–15 girls who already knew the agenda. The girls had a first version of their application. Our discussions revolved around editing and perfecting it. The girls had much better, deep questions to ask. Aside of that, I also got to learn names of all the girls and establish a personal connection with them.

At NIT Calicut, we had about 70 girls who had not even heard about GHCI before. We took the first half of the day to get them interested to apply to GHCI and the latter half was a quick hackathon to start their applications. Discussions in this case we’re more about what a resume was, why you should have one, how can you get started, etc.

Now that the entire exercise is over, we have about 6–7 scholars from MEC, CET, TOCH together who were also a part of our meetup.

And not a single student from the NITC meetup made it to the scholarship.

2 things might have made all the difference:

1. Less number of people and increased level of personal engagement

2. The girls were already interested and involved with the application process. They already had taken some effort to get started and then the Meetup came as a cherry on the top. It helped them refine their application and learn better.

Last day at GEC Srikrishnapuram, we followed a model similar to the one at NITC. Now we have about 80 girls applying for the Adobe Scholarship from GEC SKP. They have all started their applications now and now have a lot of doubts and questions they did not have before. I spent close to 5 hours at GEC Srikrishnapuram and of those, the 2 hour afternoon hackathon was the most productive.

Most of the girls had a dedicated PC with internet connection, we onboarded everyone on email, shared resources over email, got them to open and read it all on their own instead of me showing it using a projector.

To sum up, these are the key points that I must keep in mind:

  1. Ensure that your audience are familiar with you, your work and the intent of the program/hackathon beforehand.
  2. Everyone has done a first attempt in their personal capacity. My interaction should revolve around discussing their first attempt and what needs change.
  3. Smaller audience works best.
  4. Invest more time and effort on a focussed 2 hour hackathon/discussion and not a one to many talk session.