Converge Hackathon: developers + designers + diversity. Is it even possible?

One of the cool aspect of my current job is the freedom I have to experiment with what I think it’s valuable and important for the developer ecosystem. This time I tried to tackle two aspects, both under the diversity umbrella: expertise mix and gender gap.

In collaboration with frog design (thanks Laura and Alex for the help), we envisioned a platform to experiment and iterate around these topics, so we create the “Converge Hackathon” format. Let’s analyse the main idea and the first implementation, held at Google HQ in Milan, March 7th.

First, why an hackathon?

We all know what an hackathon is: a fixed amount of time for experimenting with new things, get in touch with smart people and have fun with passions. In addition, “Converge Hackathon” aims to improve the collaboration between designers and developers during the whole process of thinking, refining and realizing an idea. Hence the name. And because I viscerally love the hackathon format ;)

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Don’t be shy and… present!

How the collaboration between developers and designers has gone?

Pretty much well, I would say.  This collaboration was one of the more acknowledged strength of the event. Here some of the attendees’ comments:
“Was challenging to work with stranger but at the same time interesting and funny. The best part was the division of the work”
“The collaboration was really good. It was my first time working with developers and I enjoyed a lot. Otherwise, I think it was needed a bit more of integration regarding with how the design and the coding could be merge”
“I’ve meet a lot of interesting people and different points of view on even the simplest thing”
“Good organization, very nice the initiative of mixing designers with developers and give an opportunity to work together”
Although it was challenging:
“I’m a designer. Speaking with Developer is very difficult because they only think in their square area.”
“At the beginning was difficult to know new people and get in touch with the developers”
To summarise: no pain, no gain when you start this kind of collaboration :) But the feedback showed that audience gained a lot, despite some small pain.
We balanced the attendees considering 2/3 of developers and 1/3 of designers, and frog carefully selected the latter viewing their portfolio, their profile, their activities. They wanted to be sure that the right profiles were part of the crowd. For developers, I let them in without any particular control. I trust in natural selection ;)
Another learning point was about the teams creation: such different crowd requires a focused pre-work for mixing the people in a proper way, something that goes beyond the quick ice-breakers we did in the morning, that work generally well in a standard hackathon. Dedicate the right attention to this aspect is crucial.
One final consideration is about the timing: one day only event makes hard to create something meaningful, and the ideation phase, that generally is very short during a normal hackathon because the attendees are eager to “get their hands dirty with code”, this time was fostered, and mostly led, by designers. The result was that final hacks were more elaborated that the average I’ve generally seen, but with the drawback of having prototypes less “working” than the usual. As note for us, organisers, next time we need to keep the ideation process inside a given timeframe, otherwise the risk is that, once the first half of the event has gone, teams are still thinking about what they can realise.

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Diversity? Really not an issue for this team

And the gender-gap aspect?

I need to make a point: after different conversation with woman about how to tackle gender gap at tech events, I don’t believe anymore in women-only formats. It’s an opposite kind of discrimination and doesn’t really help the debate about the problem. Said that, roughly 30% of participants were female. Not bad for an event format that, generally, has between 5% and 10% of women participation. True that most of them were designers, but nevertheless this created a good and cozy environment. But we can do better next time, for example involving in the organisation of the event different girl-in-code association, asking them to help spreading the voice and incorporating their feedback in the event planning. Again, lot of space to improve, because my final goal is a 50/50, perfectly balanced event!

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Video backstage

One-shot event or there is a future?

Since the beginning, we have thought to Converge Hackathon as a brand for a series of events on a variety of different and innovative topics. The ideal pace should be around an event every 3 or 4 months, to keep the brand live, people involved and offer the playground for continuing to experiment with dev+designer+diversity topics.
Next time, I would like to invite some students from high schools and involve makers too, to be even more… convergent! :)

Stay tuned!

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