As Hack24 draws closer, those of you that somehow managed to score tickets will be thinking about your hacks and the challenges set by our sponsors. One question that comes up around this time is “How does judging work?”. Here's Andrew to tell you.

Sponsor Motivations

The process of figuring out what hacks will win begins months before Hack24. When companies are contacting us about sponsoring Hack24 in order to set a challenge, we talk to them about their motivations - what they’d like to get out of setting a challenge.

It may be that they want to promote a product or service, perhaps an API; they might want to put forward a fun challenge to give an insight into their workplace culture so people consider working for them or they might just want to see some fun built and build their brand in the community.

This step is important as it ensures the companies setting the challenge have reasonable expectations about what they will get from setting a challenge, and the motivations of the sponsors will help shape the challenge they set and the judging criteria around it.

Challenge Curation

In the months leading up to Hack24, I work with challenge sponsors to shape their ideas into challenges. Over the years we’ve gained experience on what aspects of a challenge work and do not work, the balance between being constrained enough to inspire great hacks, but broad enough to ensure a breadth of different ideas.

This curation process ensures the challenge meets the aims of the sponsor, but also fits in well with the challenges set by other sponsors.

This curation process produces the challenges and the judging criteria for those challenges.

The Judging Process

In the run up to the event, the judges for each challenge are on the Tech Nottingham Slack channel, answering questions and engaging with hackers, hearing their feedback about their challenges, this often leads to clarifying and tweaking of the criteria around the challenge.

Anton Roe, CEO of MHR, chatting to hackers about their entries

When the event begins, the judges are at the opening presentation, introducing their challenge, offering advice and going over the criteria. Throughout the weekend they and their teams are engaging with hackers and offering support, and of course the Hack24 team are doing the same.

By the next day, we usually have a pretty good idea about what hacks are being created by the different teams. On the Sunday from 9:00am, we go to all hackers and find out exactly which hacks are going into which challenges.

Next, the judges then go around the teams entering their challenge, talking to them about the hacks. This is relaxed and informal, the judges are interested in ideas, motivation and the intent behind the hacks, and seeing how you’re doing with it.

It’s keyboards down at 12:00 and the production of hack videos begins. However the judges are still around finding out where people got to in the end.

The Judging Begins

At the video submission deadline at 14:00, the hackers go off for a big congratulatory feast. The judges meanwhile gather in two groups, each lead by a member of the Hack24 team, and they go through the hacks for their challenges.

By this point, the judges have a really good idea of what’s happened with each hack and the videos (along with pages of notes) serve as an aide-memoire to drive a discussion of each hack around the announced judging criteria. We’ll also discuss the intent behind the idea, the problem it’s designed to solve and the execution of the hack.

From all the hacks in a challenge we’ll select a top three, and from those select the winner.

All the judges in the room provide input, but the judge for that challenge has final say.

Once the judges have finally agreed, the videos of the top three and the winner for each challenge are frantically arranged into the closing presentation and the prize-giving begins.

The Process

The judging process is a delicate balance, because we want to be as fair as possible in the time we have available, but we also don’t want the hackers feeling under undue pressure.

Hack24 is about having fun building things with your friends, and the judging process is how we give out the prizes to celebrate the effort hackers put into their weekend. If that process stopped you having fun then there’d be nothing to celebrate - which would defeat the whole point!

So have fun, build cool stuff, chat to the judges, tell them about your weekend and what you made.

Most importantly make it a weekend to remember before the prize giving has even begun.