Going further than conferences

For the past year when working on Philos, we’ve organized dozens of conferences and technical events across Belgium but also in Amsterdam and Paris.

We’ve aimed mostly for leading edge technologies in the JavaScript space. The goal was to help developer communities make sense of the fast-paced Javascript environment and make sure they stay at the bleeding edge.

conference

Conferences are a great way to raise awareness on specific topics. But when it comes to learning and knowledge sharing, practical events are just the best.

If you want to have something that sticks to people’s head, if you want your participants to truly come back home with something valuable, there’s nothing as good as an interactive hands-on experience. And the bonus part of those practical events: it gives your attendees the chance to learn, share and mingle with other tech passionate.

The existing options

Hackathons, startup weekends or any other competitions of that type have this capacity to bring people together.

hackathon

They’re fun environment where participants share their knowledge and get something meaningful out of it.

It’s the perfect occasion to learn and use new technologies to real-life problems or business cases.
In their daily work, tech teams hardly ever have this opportunity as hierarchy, security and time-constraints often prevent it.

Despite the fact that they’re insightful, enriching and fun, those events are also very time consuming.

Unfortunately, this makes it really hard to attend those competitions on a regular basis.

Bring gamification & continuous learning together

I really love those competitions. They bring a lot of value to both to individuals and organizations. As developers get better, organizations might also benefit from the new skills of the latter in their future product development.

Having those competitive events once in a while is good. But how could we bring that a step further? What could we do to make continuously learning happen in a fun and insightful way while contributing to fasten the adoption of new technologies?

Those are the questions that kept on coming to my head for some time.

Luckily, as a sport fan I didn’t have to search far to find examples to get inspiration from.

leagues

Most sports, poker and even finance have setup leagues where participants gather on a regular basis to compete in a fun and thrilling atmosphere. So why not code?

Why couldn’t we have matches (Coding Battles) on a regular basis too?

For this to happen, Coding Battles would need to

  • be short (+- 3 hours) as they would happen after-work
  • be fun and enlightening
  • respond to the need of both the participants and the financing parties to make it a viable project

After talking about the project to several community members and companies, both sides seemed interested.

For now, that’s all the validation I needed to go ahead with it. You guessed it… This is where the Hack League story begins.

How to make it a viable idea?

To make the Hack League happen, it would have to attract people but also bring in enough revenues to cover the costs. Simple math.

So what could be the interests of each side? What could there be in it for them?

On the developers’ side, their interests lie in learning, mingling with other passionate and sharing their knowledge with each other in a fun and thrilling environment. Some will also be interested in the potential prizes, the possibility to get hired or even the fame that they could get from those competitions.

On the companies’ side, it’s all about the opportunity to engage with communities of passionate developers. What does it mean for them? How can they benefit from it?

There are different ways:

  • Businesses developing tech product or dev-centered solutions see this as an opportunity to put their product or solution forward. It’s a way for them to assess their product’s attractiveness, ease of use, retention rate and get direct feedback on it from their core users.
  • Other companies take that as a chance to interact and get to know developers differently than through interviews or head hunters.
    With the demand growing stronger and the pool of talent stalling, companies cannot rely on traditional recruitment methods anymore.
    Developers seek thrilling, enlightening, enjoyable working experiences.
    By being part of the Hack League, companies get to show participants their work environment, the kind of project they’re working on and the technologies that they use.
  • Some businesses could even use those competition to get inspired and learn from this tech Think Tank to improve their products, guide them in their stack choices or help them reach better performances.

Making it happen

The concept was there. It needed validation.

I decided to run several individual Coding battles. That would allow me to test different formats, get feedback and improve the whole experience.

I also wanted to make sure that the idea had potential outside the Belgium market. With the support of Wemanity and local friends, we organized two Coding Battles abroad one in Paris and another in London. All of them showed very positive results.

The participants’ side

On average we had around 30 people per event (quite a nice number if you consider that those were hands-on events).

Participants’ feedback were very positive and encouraging. Participants who attended the Coding Battles in Paris and London showed the same enthusiasm and were asking for more. Promising!

Coding Battle participants

The companies’ side

90% of the contacted companies welcomed the idea.

They rapidly saw the added value that the Hack League and the Coding Battles could bring them.The traction was confirmed.

Now the hardest part: push the concept further. Manage to keep it interesting and fun for developers while bring value to the parties financing the championship.

The community as the driving force

Throughout this adventure, the community has been amazing. Beside their support and encouragement, they’ve provided tons of invaluable feedback that helped and keep helping us improve the Hack League.

I will take Kalin’s example. He’s proactively shared his feeling, experience and code on the first 4 Coding battles that took place in Brussels (search “Coding Battle” to find the articles). That’s just awesome.

Next Steps

Beginning of October, the first season of the Hack League will begin. With partners like Microsoft, Google and other amazing companies, we’ll work hard to continue to bring the Hack League to the next level.

For now, all the upcoming Coding Battles will be located in Belgium but we hope to bring it again to other European cities soon.

We’re also working on the possibilities to bring the concept online to allow more people to join us.

What do you think? Any city you’d like Coding Battles and the Hack League to come to?