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HowToDevHouse

Page history last edited by Elsie Sellers 9 years, 11 months ago

In commemoration of my return to devhouseness at the [next SuperHappyDevHouse](http://upcoming.org/event/60817/) and my forthcoming involvement in the CocoaDevHouse in Amsterdam(http://upcoming.org/event/61899/), I thought I'd dish the dirt on how to organize an event of maximum hackerdom on the cheap.

 

When

Try to organize when people will be in town, on a weekend before or after a conference is usually an idea. Don't do more than one a month, we usually try for about a 6 week interval.

 

How to find a venue

What kind of area are you in? In the Bay Area we've been lucky to be near to enough affluence that there are entire cities of giant houses to be commandeered, but if you are not so lucky as to have a benevolent house overlord, here are a few useful tips on finding a venue:

 

  • Know your size. You are probably looking for a place for about 20 people with laptops, with electricity and internet access. Small amounts of people can still be quite a fun event, and if you start to overflow having an outdoor area where people will be able to take a break and drink a beer is helpful.
  • Startups and companies who have recently moved. When somebody is just moving into a new office there is usually a ton of space that is wired up without many people actually there yet. Startups are the best for this as often times they have enough leeway to randomly allow their office to be taken over for an evening without having to clear it with two levels of management and a board of directors.
  • Workshop spaces. All those workshops that people are always telling you to attend frequently happen at spaces that are great for hacking, so when you see one advertised find out where it is. If the location seems to be a company's private workshop area or left-over space in a building you'll have a much easier time convincing them to let you use it for free, especially if there are a few programmers at the company who you can persuade to attend.
  • Community centers. A lot of these won't have internet access so that can make it more difficult, but many cities have places where local bands will play and are specifically there and funded to provide services for the community.
  • Spam your friends. Once your searches are starting to become exhausted, shoot out some emails to your friends and ask them to forward them on. If you are on any local mailing lists with a techie/geek vibe they may be great places to reach some people.

 

How to convince a venue owner

You've found a couple places, but the owners aren't sold on letting you use the space or want you to pay more than you really can afford (and you don't really know how many people are going to be there yet, anyway), so now you've got to convince them.

 

  • Recruitment. If the company is a tech company these events are a great way to find talented people, to see how people work in a team, to see how people problem solve, and to see people's social habits.
  • Cultural Responsibility. If it is a community center or a company, these types of events further the community, they grow culture and invigorate a section of the population that is very frequently too separated to create real cultural institutions. Coders are people, too, and the experience they get from these events will help them excel in their other roles in society.
  • Propaganda. It looks great for some organization to have gotten behind this kind of event, people will hear about them through hearing about the event which is in itself of a completely altruistic nature. Good will spreads from this event to the people and location that host it and as the events grow larger they can become the organizations greater source of new leads.
  • Namedropping. Many people will think you are just some upstart hippie freak, and you probably are, but if you've got any upstart hippie freaks that those people respect behind the event or planning on attending, they can lend some necessary credibility to your case.

 

Supplies

Depending on your venue, you may need to supply quite a bit of the infrastructure for the event. For most of these items your best bet is to form a little organizers group and try to spread out the responsibilities among them.

 

  • Money. About $200 in capital, you'll be able to make up some of this via the monetary value of your charisma and sexual prowess.
  • Tables and chairs. Folding tables and chairs are pretty much the standard for something like this. A lot of times you can borrow these from churches, and friends may have some in their garages. If you can't find any of those long tables or folding chairs, work with what you can get, it will be better next time.
  • Power. You're going to need power strips, but almost everybody can manage to bring their own, and to wrap some tape around them that they can write their name on. Don't put too many on one plug though, it is very easy to blow a breaker.
  • Networking. Set up a couple wifi access points, but also provide enough switch-space for at least 3/4 of your expected attendance. Instruct attendees to bring ethernet cables if they've got them, and again to tape them and write their name on them.
  • Food. If you're low on cash, fruit is usually a pretty good winner, as well as tortilla chips, pretzels, and baby carrots. If you've got some bling to toss around, consider getting some french bread, cheese, some dips, and maybe some oven-roastable mini-things like mini-hotdogs, mini-eggrolls, mini-wings. Pizza is also always a winner, make it at least half veggie as there are a surprising amount of vegetarian crazies out there.
  • Drinks. Caffeine and Beer. Often times you can convince some attendees to bring some beer along, but make sure to provide a nice supply of Red Bull (I hate these personally, but they are quite popular) and maybe another type of energy drink, I prefer Sobe or Amp, though Rockstar has been popular in the past. Coffee is good, too, if you can make it hot. Antoher new energy drink is A.C.T.
  • Other stuff. Whiteboards are cool, as are big sheets of paper that people can hang up. Posters for the party make people feel special and help them find the location.

 

Handling the Party Arc

Parties follow a pretty consistent arc of attendance, and this kind of event is no different.

 

  • Before the party put up some signs to help people locate the venue, get some of the initial food out (nobody will eat it for a while though), mark of areas for people to put their shoes or coats, have the network information written up somewhere big that you can point to when everybody asks you how to get to the internet.
  • At the beginning when just the early-birds are arriving, get them involved in some of the infrastructure. They're happy to help run some cables or power strips or push couches around. This is also a good time to set up things like a wiki or IRC channel for the event so that people can organize with some of the tools they are used to.
  • As it grows start mentioning to people that they should add some of their projects to the wiki, try to get some people to buddy up on working on things they are both interested in. As the host you should walk around and find out what people are working on and if they are interested in help and then spread that information to the other people you talk to. Things like standing up and shouting, "do we have any SQL gurus in the house who can help with a query," seems to work pretty well. Now's a good time to have some food starting.
  • At its peak you should find yourself pretty crowded, people will be taking breaks and talking about stuff. Food should be done by now, people will eat it faster than you thought possible, and the drinkers will have arrived. Most people who really found something to work on will be assembled in little corners working together. If you haven't started any music yet, you should, but don't let any of the geeks control it as it invariably leads to arguments -- you are the host, assign a single music geek. If you are low on the cash front this is a decent time to go around and ask for donations, try for at least $5 and you should cover most of your costs.
  • As it dwindles around 2-3am it is the time for things that involve more of the group as a whole, now that you've all had a chance to make some friends and connections it will be easier for people to socialize and come together on their geeky interests, if you've got a projector now is a good time to play some Strongbad clips. Have a smaller second batch of food for these folks to munch on.
  • The wee hours post 4am you probably will only have a very small portion of the populace left, if you have couches many of them will be sitting on the couches with their laptops talking about programming methodologies, why Python is better than Java and their first computers. Some of the more dedicated hackers will be drowsily trying to finish one of the projects they started at the event. People will fall asleep.
  • Morning. If the venue allowed it and people were asleep you should probably start getting them up around 9am and getting them to help clean up and go home. It is usually nice to go out to a breakfast together afterwards somewhere nearby.

 

Conclusion

These events are supposed to be open and free, we generally encourage working on open source projects and sharing as much as you can with the other people at the event. Beyond what is described here there are plenty of additional fun activities you can incorporate, in the past we've had presentations, mini-presentations, had a wikipedia editing club, had campfires and filmed videos.

 

Make the event your own, add your own style to it, make sure to thank everybody involved and have fun. Oh, and invite me.

 

 

russell crowe in robin hood

 

 

Check Out Another Wiki! I figured that since I help keep this wiki "safe" it'd be okay to link to mine.

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