This is a review of 2016's QA Hackathon, based on feedback from attendees,
sponsors, the organisers, and anyone else who chooses to pass comment.
The goal is to make next year's event better and to help next year's
organisers. Note that there may well be conflict between comments.
What worked well?
Staying in the same place where the hacking was taking place.
This meant that wasn't a hard start or hard finish to hacking,
so some people could start early, and others could finish late.
This was JJ's decision, and it turned out to be a good one!
The hotel being close to shops, pubs, and restaurants,
so people could nip out then come back and carry on.
The current 4-day model (arrive Wednesday, hack Thursday through Sunday)
seems to work well: it's a good stretch of time,
and people would have a hard time justifying any longer away from
family and work.
The invitational model and selection process.
30 to 40 attendees feels about right.
We had nearly every room in the hotel, so we ended up taking the place
over, which worked out pretty well (for us at least, and the hotel seemed
to be ok).
Having a number of different areas where people could spread out to.
Though some people also thought the Berlin layout was better:
an open-plan clusters of spaces.
Wendy providing fresh fruit & vegetables, and chocolate!
Emailing attendees information ahead of the event
(print it out and bring it with you,
it might help you get into the country!)
Having a separate room for discussions.
Everyone having separate bedrooms. That makes it more expensive,
and thus more sponsorship needed. But given everyone is hacking long days,
people need to have some time and space on their own.
Group meal out together.
Having a sponsorship prospectus, with clear sponsorship levels and benefits.
Thanks to David Golden for suggesting this.
We didn't have any organised outings, which combined with the location
meant that everyone stayed pretty focussed through the 4 days.
The EPO handled invoicing sponsors and providing different ways
for sponsors to pay. Thanks in particular to Claire Jackson for all her help
on this, and Mark Keating for various bits of advice.
It's good knowing your community has a Mark Keating you can call on.
We had a hot lunch provided by the hotel. This kept the engines stoked,
though with a potential downside that everyone had to stop for lunch when
it was ready, rather than at the best time for them (in the previous few
years Wendy has organised a cold buffet lunch, which meant people could
graze as and when they fancied).
What could be improved?
The chairs weren't very comfortable to sit in for a long time.
The wifi was a bit flakey at times.
Turned out there were multiple networks all on the same channel,
which didn't help.
It was an old building, so there weren't enough power sockets,
which meant we ended up with extension cables and 4-gangs strewn around.
The power socket requirements could have been discussed with the
hotel ahead of time.
The QAH was officially announced Feb 8th.
It should be announced a lot earlier than this,
to maximise the number of people who can block out the weekend
well ahead of time.
Wired internet? See note below.
Rent a nespresso style coffee machine for the weekend.
The hotel commented that our group got through a lot of coffee and tea!
When inviting people, make it very clear whether they have to book a hotel
room for themselves, or whether they're being sorted by the organisers.
I hadn't make this clear, which resulted in someone booking an additional
room for himself.
Do the group photo earlier in the weekend, when everyone is still there.
On arrival, the organiser(s) should sit down with the relevant person
from the hotel and go through the attendee list, schedule for the weekend,
Make a list & map of places to eat close to the lodging.
We had one official stand-up, and a few impromptu ones.
Several people commented that it would be better to know a fixed
time for stand-ups ahead of time.
Start raising sponsorship much earlier: it will be less stressful,
plus all the sponsor blog posts can be spread over time,
rather than flooding blogs.perl.org
Change the ACT instance to make it clear it's an invitational event
Remind people to update the accomplishment page on the wiki every day
It would be good if the organiser(s) had access to the
@perlqah twitter account.
I think it would have been better to do all my QAH tweeting
from that, rather than from my personal account.
Internet access always seems to be an issue.
Some people need to have long-running SSH connections to remote machines,
so stable network connections are important.
For these people some wired network access points would really help.
Organising a dedicated network for the QAH makes sense, in addition to
whatever the hosting site provides.
A couple of ideas
Identify some specific important projects (eg fix bugs and CPAN Testers
fails in dists at the head of the river) and have one or two "QAH Intern"
positions, where people can apply to come, but to work on these specific
things. This needs a bit more thought though, as we wouldn't want to
exclude a seasoned toolchain developer to make a space for an intern.
I designed a t-shirt for this year's QAH, and a number of people commented
that they would've liked the opportunity to order one too.
One person suggested an additional social thing of some kind on the
Wednesday evening, like a games night, but multiple people commented that
they like the fact that we didn't have any social things organised beyond
the group meal out on the Thursday.
What does a perfect QAH look like?
Based on experience with recent QAHs,
and all of the above,
the following is what we think makes a really good QAH:
Wednesday night through Sunday.
30 to 40 attendees.
Use the layered selection process to build attendee list.
Have it in late April.
Eg Wednesdy 19th April through Sunday 23rd April 2017.
Choose the location and dates by the end of summer of the year before.
This will let you fix the number of attendees and start inviting people
early, so you'll have an outline budget early, so you know how much
sponsorship you need. I was working at raising sponsorship until the
day before I left for the QAH.
In a well-connected European city.
Roughly 70% of the attendees are from Europe, so having it anywhere else
would seriously increase the travel costs,
and thus sponsorship requirements.
Not in an expensive city / country (eg not in Switzerland?).
Event and lodging in the same place,
with the hacking space available early and late.
It should be in an area with a good range of places to eat nearby.
Rock solid wifi, with coverage across all work & meeting spaces,
and all bedrooms. A decent number of wired access points in the
main hacking areas.
Have a stand-up meeting every morning at the same time. Eg 9:30.
Most or all single occupancy bedrooms, with some doubles for couples.
A main open working area, with an acoustically separate meeting room,
and some other spaces near by where the door can be shut,
for side discussions, noisy/quiet sub teams.
Get people to start discussing what they'll work on ahead of time,
and recording it on the wiki. Prompt discussion on the cpan-workers
mailing list, on known big topics like PAUSE, Test2, etc.
Have Wendy organise snacks.
Talk to her about this well head of time, before you book the hotel.
Some thoughts on the people organising:
Have a team, with a clear lead. There are a number of roles,
which could be shared, but I'll present them as if done by different
The lead organiser should be "on the ground", and responsible
for (a) finding the venue(s), (b) putting together a team,
(c) managing the todo list, and (d) trying to get other people to
do the stuff below. There's a lot to do during the event itself,
and having other people do some of the things below will make your
Have one person responsible for raising sponsorship:
raising it, communicating with sponsors before, during, and after.
This is a lot of work, but can be largely self-contained.
I think it would be good if this wasn't done by the lead.
Have one person responsible for financials and budget.
Have a mechanism in place for invoicing sponsors and taking their money.
They'll then be responsible for refunding attendees.
One person to build the attendee list.
This takes a surprising amount of time,
(a) due to the layered approach to invites,
and (b) because you end up with a bunch of people who can't
make a hard yes/no decision when you invite them,
so you're juggling and nudging people.
The final places for this year's QAH were resolved in the week before
the QAH started.