Tomorrow at noon, we kick off our fourth Hack Day at Yahoo! It runs from noon tomorrow until noon Friday, followed by demos Friday afternoon and a party. As I write this, I am fielding questions from Yahoo hackers who are planning to stay here all night tomorrow night putting together their hacks. Awesome.
We’ve now had two (1, 2) in Santa Clara and one in Bangalore. Hack Day #5 happens in Bangalore on July 4th, followed closely by the pan-European EU Hack Day in London on July 6th. This thing has serious legs around Yahoo! Terry Semel and Jerry Yang presented Hack Day awards personally in Bangalore (see the Flickr photo — there are close to 200 photos tagged hackday on Flickr now — expect more this week). During the Friday demos, C-level execs will be mixing it up with the hackers (we’ve had wonderfully enthusiastic support from the top!)
- Take something from idea to prototype in a day
- Demo it at the end of the day, in two minutes or less (usually less)
Sounds simple (and it is), but like all simple things, a lot of thought went into making it so simple. Most of my time the past few months has been spent keeping Hack Day relatively “pure.” What do I mean by “pure”? Well, it would be very easy to make such an event a “rah rah” corporate exercise with all sorts of interests trying to mold the event to some very specific business end, but that doesn’t happen. Hack Day is by hackers, for hackers. The ideas are theirs, the teams are self-determined, and no technologies are proscribed. I don’t even know what people are building until they get up to do their demos at the end of the day.
Looking towards Hack Day tomorrow, I wanted to point out a few of the inspirations that inspired those simple organizing principles (to paraphrase the famous Newton quote, we’re definitely standing on the shoulders of giants):
- Eric Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar, particularly:
- The Hacker Ethic, first articulated by Steven Levy in his must-read 1984 book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.
- The Homebrew Computer Club, where personal computing was essentially invented and working demos were the order of the day. See the Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter #4, June 7, 1975: “Bring your beast in for a demo. Can it sing or play games? Let’s have a look at it.”
- “It’s More Fun to Compute,” off Kraftwerk’s 1981 geek album Computer World. Get a copy if you don’t already have one. It is more fun to compute.
- “Build Something Cool in 24 Hours,” from the excellent Creating Passionate Users blog
- FedEx days and hackathons from startups (follow that last link where Ken Norton says, “In one day, the team accomplished what it would have taken my old company weeks to do.” We’re doing it in one day now, too, Ken.) :)
- The “unconference” concept
- . . . plus many more I’m sure I’m leaving out
These are just inspirations, of course. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned getting this off the ground initially and putting it together for a multi-national public company with several thousand employees. It would fill a book that I don’t have the time to write right now.
In the end, Yahoo! hackers really make the whole thing happen, though — I just help create the context. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens tomorrow. I have no idea what will emerge, just that it will be cool and I’ll have a big smile on my face.