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45,000 Signed Up for Next Week's For-Charity Hack.Summit() Virtual Conference

| by Floyd Marinescu Follow 38 Followers on Nov 28, 2014. Estimated reading time: 5 minutes |

Hack.Summit is running next week Dec 1-4 - the largest virtual conference ever put on in the software development space. Perhaps a first for the industry, the conference is a donation-only and all proceeds go directly to programming related non-profits. Over 37 keynote speakers will be presenting next week including DHH, Tim O'Reilly, Matei Zaharia (Apache Spark), Gilad Bracha (Java lang spec), Kent Beck, Ward Cunningham, Creator of Google Glass Tom Chi, Scott Hanselmann, and even this author, Floyd Marinescu (talking about culture in virtual teams). Hack.summit() is organized by Hack.hands(), a startup offering on-demand mentoring platform that connects developers to others who offer for real time coding help.

InfoQ caught up with Ed Roman, founder of hack.summit() to learn more. 

InfoQ: You’ve got 45,000 members registered, how did you achieve such an amazing feat?

A combination of factors:

  • The lineup of speakers is unprecedented and are a natural draw. Where else can you hear from the creators of Google Glass, Ruby on Rails, UML, Bittorrent, CSS, the Wiki, GNU Bash, Extreme Programming, and many more all at one event?
  • The event doesn't require travel, so it's easy to attend
  • Since there aren't physical costs (such as security, staff to run the event on-site, seats/space for attendees, reserving hotel room blocks, or food & beverage) we can have a theoretically unlimited number of attendees, and aren't limited by normal conference restrictions
  • The event raises money for coding non-profits, so it's an opportunity to give-back and helps word-of-mouth
  • Many of the speakers have high influence on twitter to help spread the word
  • If you can't afford to donate, then you can pay-with-a-tweet, which helps virality and helps get the word out while also finding more donors
  • Our partners on the event have wide reach for promotion on both email and social media

hack.summit() is backed by a coalition of a dozen non-profits in the coding space, and is supported by a variety of tech companies such as Facebook, Github, Appcelerator, InfoQ, O'Reilly, Basecamp, and many more - you can see the whole list on http://hacksummit.org.

InfoQ: Why are you organizing Hack.summit, who is behind Hack.summit?

It's organized by hack.hands(), a startup that I run.  hack.hands() helps developers through instant mentoring in their time-of-need. This is a unique conference in that the event organizer -- hack.hands() -- isn't making any money on the event. Every dollar brought-in (from both ticket sales and partners) is being given to the coding non-profits. We wanted to be very pure about this, so we aren't even reimbursing our own hard-costs to organize the event. We also aren't doing any heavy-handed promotion of ourselves -- we want this event to feel like a fairly neutral event. We think very long-term about the value of this across multiple years, being a unifying event for the programming industry.

We're organizing hack.summit() for a variety of reasons:

  • We think it's possible to build a business that has both social impact as well as have economic upside.  Some people call this "social entrepreneurship". Running this event is an opportunity to give-back and help the community-at-large.
  • We get exposure indirectly by being associated with this event (in a similar way to how a tech company gets notoriety / credibility by contributing to open-source, as first pioneered by JBoss a decade ago). This helps us in recruiting, partnering with other companies, etc.
  • One of the "themes" of the event is to encourage developers to help mentor each other to help improve the quality of software around the world. This (indirectly) benefits us.
  • There's a big problem in diversity in the programming space, and many of the non-profits involved help address that issue.
  • We think doing this event is fun. We get to meet the best developers in the world :)

InfoQ: Many other virtual events have not made mark, how have you been able to do so well?

We suspect it's for a few reasons...

  • The first attempts at these events tried to mimic real-world physical events by having a vendor booth area, or a 3D world you could interact in and virtually "meet" other attendees. We think this is nonsensical -- trying to emulate the real-world isn't always appropriate
  • The technology just wasn't there in the past. With Google+ Hangouts and Crowdcast (both fairly recent inventions), it's now possible to easily run a virtual conference at low cost
  • We were really picky to secure the best speaker line-up, and built virality into the event from day-1
  • Creating an event that's for a good cause (in our case, benefiting coding non-profits), rather than for self-profit, helps rally everyone on-board with the idea (both speakers and attendees)

InfoQ: How does the technology work?

We use Google+ Hangouts for a 1-on-1 video chat between myself and the speaker. The speaker can screen-share his desktop to show live code or slides. That Hangout is then streamed to YouTube using the "Hangouts on Air" feature. YouTube then sends the stream to be embedded window within our website for our audience to view. So from a scalability perspective this tool chain is battle-tested, since we're talking about a 1-on-1 hangout (easy), and YouTube has hosted events much larger (e.g. the World Cup).

The audience can interact with the speakers via Crowdcast.io which allows for audience members to type-in comments, type-in questions, and participate in polls. Other audience members can upvote/downvote questions, similar to HackerNews. In this way, the best questions bubble to the top, rather than questions that happen to be asked by a vocal minority of audience members.

After the speaker session is over, we'll be posting the private Google+ Hangout link for audience members to join the speakers who choose to devote extra time after their talk. This is on a first-come first-serve basis to ask questions. Google+ Hangouts limits this to around 15 or so participants. This simulates a "beehive" effect that happens at a conference where shy audience members can directly interact with speakers.

At the time of this writing, the top donors on the hack.summit() page are listed as:

  • Taylor Brown - $750
  • Shubhang Manidsf - $500
  • Boaz - $200

 Hack.Summit starts Monday with talks running hourly from 9-6pm PST. 

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