So, you want to start your own Hacker Hours!
This is very exciting. In short, Hacker Hours are
- “free office hours for programming help”
- more specifically, not for-profit…having people chip in for snacks or something is fine
- open to anyone, regardless of age or skill level
- not a class, and not a lecture
Here are a few things to take into account when considering hosting:
- Why would you like to host Hacker Hours?
- Do you haven any specific goals/objectives for hosting? (recruiting, brand recognition, giving back, etc.)
- What are you thinking in terms of frequency?
- What is the space like?
- How many attendees can your space hold comfortably?
- How many folks from your organization do you expect to stay for each event, on average? How many of them are technical?
Meeting the above requirements, and reflecting on the aforementioned considerations, are the only things we ask to call your group “Hacker Hours”. We won’t sue you or anything, but just ask in good faith.
Read the What ARE Hacker Hours to get some backstory.
This guide will address “organizers” and “mentors” in order to clarify responsibilities, though one person can certainly serve both roles. “Organizers” are people who schedule the event and are generally in charge of coordination. “Mentors” are individuals with greater-than-zero programming experience who are willing to answer coding questions. These titles aren’t official or formal - just to help for purposes of this guide.
It’s important to have a canonical source of information regarding the time and location, which will also be the place you refer potential attendees. (Hacker Hours NYC was listed across two Meetup groups for a while, and all updates needed to be managed in two places in sync.) Meetup serves this purpose well, though a Public Google Calendar or a Facebook Group Event could also be fine. It’s great to have a mailing list for discussion between events, but it’s best to have a designated calendar in addition.
In terms of promotion (from potential mentors and mentees), your best bet is to reach out to companies, colleges, and user groups in the area. Meetup.com will also announce your group to people with overlapping interests listed, if you choose to use that platform.
While Hacker Hours NYC is programming-language-agnostic, other related groups are language- or framework-specific. Totally up to you.
When it began, Hacker Hours NYC was almost entirely absolute beginners. Over time, the group has gained more regulars and a wider variety of skill levels, and now many attendees simply come to have a space to work and hang out with other coders. Your community and your outreach will determine the demographic and vibe.
The default format is where mentors make themselves available for however-many hours at a time to bounce around and answer questions - the beauty here is zero planning. Starting with a standup, where everyone introduces themselves and what they’re working on for the session, is a great way to get everyone to meet one another. On occasion, Hacker Hours NYC attendees have also done informal lightning talks, teaching a skill, showing off projects, etc.
Hacker Hours NYC run twice per week, but don’t feel like you need to make a long-term commitment up front. The very first Hacker Hours had one attendee (who showed up at the very end), but it doubled every time after that. Plan to do three or so to gauge interest, and go from there.
Hacker Hours NYC began in the eight-seat conference room at Jux, which had to move to a coffee shop after it consistently brought in over twenty people per session. It then outgrew the coffee shop, and moved to a coworking space (though another session started in a different office). The breakdown:
- guaranteed availability (if it’s yours)
- intimate, since everyone is there for Hacker Hours
- full control over noise, environment, etc.
- limited size/seating
- organizer needs to let people in and kick people out
- coffee shop
- casual atmosphere
- attendees can come early or leave late
- food+drink available
- need to be careful not to be too loud
- limited seating/outlets
- sometimes closed for events
- coworking space
- lots of space
- plenty of desks+chairs+outlets
- other events take priority
YMMV. Important location qualities are good wifi, seating, power, atmosphere, and consistent availability (so you don’t have to scramble for a new place every time).
One of the beauties of Hacker Hours is that the cost (can be) next to nothing. Twilio sponsors Hacker Hours in paying for the domain and the Meetup fee, but that’s really it. Providing food, drinks or snacks is an option, but not necessary.
As your attendance grows, mentors may have a hard time keeping up with all the questions. Here are some strategies the organizer can use to mitigate demand.
You may have multiple people attending who are working with the same technology, or even have similar questions. You can try surveying the group (via RSVP, introductions at the beginning of the session, or a whiteboard) about what individuals are working on, and then have designated seating areas for different topics. On the other hand, it’s nice to have some cross-pollenation.
Rope People In
Experienced programmers are surprisingly willing to help newcomers, so reach out to friends or other members of your community to become mentors.
While it’s great to have mentors that are experienced coders, these people may not always be available. Remember that people just past the beginner stage have a fresh memory of what they learned and how they learned it, so encourage them to help field questions.
Depending on the homogeneity of the group, you may get a lot of repeat questions. Keep a list of resources that you can refer people to, particularly setup instructions and getting started tutorials/books. Feel free to add to the Resources page, or create a Page for a list that’s more specifically relevant to your group.
Tips for Organizers
- Inevitably, people will approach your group (in-person or through email) trying to recruit. Decide on a policy for how to handle these (Example: Current Policies for Hacker Hours NYC).
Tips for Mentors
- You aren’t there to validate or critique business ideas. You are of course welcome to do so, but only if asked.
- Most attendees are very grateful for your time, but there will always be exceptions who are overly demanding. Don’t be afraid to tell someone to wait their turn, or that there are others that you need to attend to, or that they should post the question on Stack Overflow (and you can respond there at a later time, or not), etc. Know When to Say “No”.
- Mozilla Webmaker Event Guides
- Wikipedia’s How to run an edit-a-thon
- Franklin Square Hacker Hours guide
You are awesome. You should join the Hacker Hours core mailing list, and get in touch if you need anything (e.g help with promotion).