Hackweekend – The Secret of Attracting Top Developers

A few days ago, I began writing about Hackweekend and How we organized Malaysia’s Premier Hackathon. I ended it with the three questions that drove us to conceive Hackweekend.

We continued by breaking down the problem to smaller chunks and continued to iterate on the solution.

How do we make developers want to join us ?

This was partially tricky because the Customer in this case had a unique position. We knew that developers are usually overworked during weekdays, either during their day jobs or in the nights working on their own projects. The question then evolved to, how do we make them want to spend a weekend with us doing the very same thing ?

Now the immediate, cop-out solution was to offer an incentive such as prize money or free services for them. But we had the advantage of hindsight and realised that most of the hackathons organized here before did provide such incentives, and have yet to be able to attract the best of the best to participate and produce results. So we had to look deeper and ask ourselves, what else ?

Then it dawned upon us. What do developers want above all else ? 2 things in particular stood out :

1) Geek Cred – A chance to differentiate themselves
2) Personal Development – A chance to learn from other rockstar peers instead of always teaching

The question then evolved to : How do we ensure that the event enabled them to have both of these options, basically enabling them to have the cake and eat it too ?

Hackweekend Developers at Work

Hackweekend Developers at Work

The solution was simple but challenged the very base of hackathons in Malaysia before this. We made the Hackathon Invite-Only. This meant that unless you were on the list, you were not getting in. This meant that you had to be vetted before you joined the crew. This also meant that if you got in, you now have a badge you can proudly carry saying, “Yes, I got in to Hackweekend”, and you know that everyone who got in deserved to be there because they are credible, qualified developers who get things done.

But, this was only half the solution. The question then became, What motivates them to apply ? Why would they apply in the first place ?

Developers, are an empirical breed. Once you realize such a valuable insight about your customer, tailoring the experience to meet their needs becomes simpler. We realized that in order to court the best, we needed to convert at least one of the best of their breed to join us. That’s how we got Aizat as part of the Committee. Aizat is one of Malaysia’s first Facebook employees and a person who held a really good reputation in the Open Source and Tech Community of Malaysia. Heck, he was one of the first few that inducted me into the Community when I met him during a FOSS Meetup upon returning to Malaysia from Michigan.

Aizat was both the recipe and the one of our secret ingredients to success. He helped us better understand the psyche of developers and also became our Beacon to attract others to join us. A chance to code with a developer of his caliber was a very coveted opportunity for some. This was a major win for us because now, we managed to cover both grounds – Geek Cred and A chance to learn with the best. Hackweekend was already starting to materialize.

Part 3 is up – What helped us Focus

P.S.  Hackweekend 3 is happening on March 31st 2012 at Pusat Sains Negara, Malaysia. Apply now to be considered at http://hack.weekend.my

Thoughts ? Comments ? Critiques ?