Bridging the Boxes: Hacker Matchmaking in Upstate New York, The Open Source Way

Collaboration in education, the open source way
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Geographically, The FOSSBox at Rochester Institute of Technology and The SU Student Sandbox at Syracuse University are separated by less than one hundred miles. These universities represent the western and eastern epicenters of central New York. FOSS@RIT, center of gravity for all things free and open source at RIT and Syracuse University's student sandbox, a student business and startup incubator, put together a cross-university, multi-disciplinary collaborative code sprint for their respective summer programs. Here is a simple breakdown.

    The process

  • Startup background
    • Is this a 'ground up' project?
    • Is your codebase public?
    • Do you have running code, or a public-facing website?
    • What are the components of your software stack?
    • How many active developers do you have? How many are participating today?
    • What are some reasonable goals that can realistically be accomplished in a 12-hour period?
  • Each startup was asked a series of questions to give the hackers an idea of where their project stood.

  • Hacker background
    • What is your weapon of choice? (What languages and platforms are you particularly skilled or familiar with?)
    • What projects are you particularly interested in?
  • Each hacker was asked a few questions to get an idea of what projects would be the best fit for their limited cycles.

  • Matchmaking
  • Hackers sat down with each prospective team to be sure they were a good fit, and scope out potential deliverables.

  • Hacking
  • Folks get down to it, and start writing code.

  • Dinner break
  • Folks get properly caffeinated and fed.

  • Periodic Status Updates
  • Check-ins make sure each team is on track and see if they need some extra cycles.

  • Feedback
  • At the end of the night, each team is interviewed about what they accomplished, what they thought worked well, and how we can improve events like this in the future (See the grid below).

Startup Description Achievements +1's -1's
SU student sandbox The Syracuse student sandbox is an incubator that helps aspiring entrepreneurs push their ventures from idea to company.
  • Hackathon as a community building effort
  • "Building an army of east-coast hackers"
  • Ease and proficiency of students/hackers
  • Collaboration between technical/non-technical teams
  • Good teachers
  • Variety of skills
  • stick-to-it-iveness
  • Needs to happen more often
TaggLynx.com Sidebar offering engaging conversation on what you're browsing, with those who share your interests.
  • Design help
  • General project feedback
  • Live software testers
  • Need more NoSQL chops
  • Need more Javascript chops
SafeSip Pre-paid taxi service allowing students to travel on and off campus.
  • One-on-one mentoring
  • Personable hackers
  • Match-making
  • Effective needs assessment
  • Hands-on and shoulder surfing v.s. passive watch and learn
 
GrowndSwell.com The future of social event planning--know who's going to be where.
  • New splash page
  • iPhone mobile page
  • Other teams got lots of help
  • Advice and Q&A
  • Lots of expertise
  • Paired programming
  • Needs assessment
  • Need more Ruby and Ruby on Rails
WriteFlick.com Annotate anywhere on the web, and share in one click.
  • Used HTML5 Canvas Element to do free-drawing over a web page
  • converted .bmp to .png to allow for alpha/transparency for screenshots
  • Willingness to help
  • Level of energy
  • creativity and passion
  • Need more people and more mentors
Stampede.it Trample the deal. Lower the price.
  • Open and creative atmosphere
  • Programmer matchmaking
  • Need more direct PHP experience

    Lessons learned

    Scoping is king

    There is much to say about being 'productively lost' in a codebase, and about learning by doing, but there is nothing more frustrating than hacking for 12 hours and having nothing to show for it at the end. It feels great to set goals and then hit them, and really demonstrates the efficacy of the sprint model.

    Matchmaking is messy

    Though it is likely that with a large enough pool of hackers, you will have someone with each needed skill in their toolbelt, it is not guaranteed. Sometimes one particular skill is in high enough demand that time-sharing will be necessary. Again, scoping is key.

    Learn by doing, not by watching

    It is better to let team members drive when learning new technology and tools, rather than passively watch over the shoulder of a hacker. As they say, instead of giving someone a fish, teach them how to fish.

    If you're in the region, and would like to experience these outcomes first hand, we encourage you to attend the SU sandbox demo day, the culmination of the Sandbox's summer program, taking place on Wednesday, August 17, 2011. FOSS@RIT will also have a table at their tradeshow if you'd like to meet some of the hackers from RIT.

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