On renaming the QA Hackathon

QAH Sat 30 April 2016

Prior to the QAH I kicked off a discussion about the name of the event on the cpan-workers mailing list. At the QAH itself some of us got together to talk about it some more. Here I'll summarise both of those discussions.

A rose by any other name ...

This was the 9th QA Hackathon, and it's always been called that: The Perl QA Hackathon, usually abbreviated to QAH (or PQAH).

Over the last 2 years I've talked to a lot of sponsors and potential sponsors, and more than a few times I've had to explain that the event isn't quite what the name might suggest. So what's wrong with the name?

The QA stands for quality assurance, and for the original QAH in Oslo, that was the scope: getting together people who worked on test modules and other parts of the Perl and CPAN test infrastructure. Those things are still very much in scope, but now the QAH is for people working on the modules, tools, and services that everyone working in Perl rely on: builders, installers, search engines, test modules, PAUSE, etc.

The word hackathon is used to describe different sorts of events, but the most common interpretation these days is groups of people competing against each other in a caffeine and pizza-fuelled binge of slash & burn coding, where a working prototype is usually the goal, and the quality of your code isn't a concern. Ok, so the hotel commented to me "your group seems to get through a lot of tea and coffee", but otherwise this doesn't really convey what the hackathon is about.

The event is largely paid for by sponsorship, so we should have a name that Perl-using companies are keen to be associated with. Whether good or bad, not everyone wants to be associated with a "hackathon" these days.

So what is this event?

Every year we assemble the people who are working on the core modules, systems, and tools, and give them four days working together. These people are typically all volunteers who work on these things in their spare time, so 4 days is a pretty good chunk of time. Plus all the right people are around you, if you need to sort out tricky cross-system issues, or hammer out changes to specs etc. Plus everyone's motivated in the same direction, and talking about similar things, so lots of new things tend to pop up as well.

This is not some elitist gathering: the attendees are selected based on who's been working on the relevant systems over the last year or so. If you started working some part of the CPAN toolchain, and did a load of good work this year, then you might get invited next year. That's right, it's an invitation event. It is largely paid for by sponsorship, so we try to invite those who will have the biggest impact. Bang for the sponsors' bucks, if you like.

Another significant benefit: these are generally people from all over the world, who usually communicate via email and IRC. Spending 4 days working and socialising together (eating out in groups in the evening), builds relationships that will see you through hard discussions over the coming year. It's good to learn that Olaf Alders isn't the arrogant jerk he might sometimes appear to be online, for example.

Goals for any new name

Working towards a new name

What terms could we use in place of 'QA'?

'Toolchain' was seen as a bit geeky, and even within the Perl community a lot of people aren't sure what the scope of "toolchain" is. 'Leadership' sends the wrong message: the event is about assembling people to get stuff done. 'Core' is too vague. The terms that went down best were 'Infrastructure' and 'Reliability'.

What terms could we use in place of 'hackathon'? Suggestions thrown out include:

'Workshop' sounded too academic to some people, like there might be lectures. 'Working Group' is perhaps a misnomer these days: people thought it can imply people getting together and talking but not actually working. Similarly, 'Offsite' was interpreted by some people as "managers going off on a jolly on the company's dime". The favourite was 'Summit'.

A number of people also liked the idea of prefixing the full name with "Annual". In the same way that we talk about the "Perl QA Hackathon", but then shorten it to "QAH", the Annual wouldn't have to be in the acronym.

Here are some specific suggestions people made:


We didn't converge on a final solution, and this post doesn't present one either.

The terms that everyone seemed to agree with were 'Annual', 'Infrastructure', 'Reliability', and 'Summit'.

I have a slight concern about "Reliability" in the name, because while that's one of the major concerns, it's also about continuing to develop the toolchain and related ecosystem.

There's no rush: we will aim to make the decision by the end of June this year, so that all communication about next year's event has a clear name to work with.

Oh, and if it wasn't obvious, Olaf Alders isn't an arrogant jerk, either online or in real life.

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