Hackathons for Science, How and Why?

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Abstract: Based on our empirical studies of 14 hackathons held by a corporation (Microsoft OneWeek Hackathon), universities, and scientific communities including three hack days at Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), we will present how hackathons can be designed to achieve specific goals in a semi-academic environment like STScI. Our recommendations are derived from the analysis of data collected through ethnographic observations, interviews, and questionnaires. Hackathons are not only a good way to foster innovation but also to provide learning and knowledge exchange opportunities, to create new and enhance existing social connections, to exercise new technical and leadership opportunities, and to get the needed work done or to make a quick progress on technical work. However, designing a hackathon involves careful upfront planning, project selection, team formation, goal setting, and follow-up activities. Before the hackathon, the organizers should ask potential participants to propose project ideas (e.g., highest priority needed work in the case of STScI), and elicit their skills, expertise, and project preference. The organizers should form teams by matching participants' skills to required skills for the projects. The resulting teams consist of a mix of members with varying levels of expertise. It is advisable for teams to perform preparatory work which includes appointing a team lead and having pre-event meetings where they discuss their plan for the event, break the projects into small individual tasks, assign tasks to team members, and familiarize themselves with the environment, project, and task. The organizers should advise teams to set realistic goals for the event and keep track of their progress toward these goals. At the end of the event, the organizers should advise teams to present their accomplishment and future plans, and encourage them to plan for future collaboration and designate a person to keep track of the progress. Examples include using the common free time to work side-by-side and self-organizing mini-hackathons (e.g., lunch hacks). With careful consideration of activities mentioned above, hackathons may provide a fruitful avenue of collaboration between astronomers and software experts.

Recommended citation: Pe-Than, E.P.P., Momcheva, I., Tollerud, E., and Herbsleb, J.D. (2019). Hackathons for Science, How and Why? Poster presented at the 233rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting #233, id.459.11. https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2019AAS…23345911P/abstract