A few weeks ago, the Cape Town Front-end Developer meetup group for our second Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust hackathon. Although it went better than the last one, there is still lots for us to learn about the shape and structure of hackathons, and about how we can best help organisations like RCCTT.
What went well
The Style Guide is progressing nicely. We’ve got a Grunt set up to generate the style guide and get things moving along quickly, and we’re making good progress with it. We’re sort of aiming for a bit of a Style Guide driven development approach.
Even though it was after the hackathon, we managed to squeeze in some time to update the mobile Theme for the site to add some basic colours and branding to make it look a little more like the desktop site. This is temporary (it will fall away once the new, shiny, responsive is ready), but we think it was a useful short term solution, and didn’t take too long to do.
Using GitHub issues is still sort of working. Having a To Do list that you can grab things from, or assign things to people on is very handy.
What didn’t go well
Set up. Again. Even though most of us had the bits and pieces we needed on our machines (MySQL, PHP, something to run a local web server), we hit a few speed bumps when trying to run the site locally. For next time we need to be more on the ball about being ready: we need to be clear that everyone must have a copy of the site up and running on their machine before arriving on the day. The flip side to that is that set up problems are often easier to fix with someone helping, so leaving it to the day is tempting if you get stuck during the process. The other part of this is that we left it to the last minute. We’re all busy at our day jobs, and Saturday was there before we knew it.
We also got sidetracked by another problem on the live site. This is usual developer behaviour, and rightly so: when something is wrong on production, anyone who can help drops what they’re doing and tries to help fix the problem. There was odd behaviour from a particular WordPress Plugin on the live site: the Page Peel Plugin. The version of WordPress on the live site was updated, and that caused the Plugin to throw an error, which in turn stopped the widgets from registering. The widgets are basically all the little blocks that aren’t main content. For this site, that meant the homepage looked really broken! It was not a happy hour or so.
What to do differently next time
I really like how Zurb run their Wired events (their yearly 24 hour hackathon-like thing to help non-profits). Their recent post about it, Mobilizing Nonprofits Through Design Thinking, is inspiring, and has helped solidify some of the things we were thinking about from our recent experience.
We think we’d like to have a dedicated Project Manager for the day. That might be one of us developers stepping away from the keyboard for the day, or we could rope in one of our PM or Scrum Master friends from work. Having someone to keep us going and steer a bit would be really helpful.
On a related point, we’d also like someone from RCCTT there for the day to help guide decisions. It might also be interesting for them to see how this works, and what the hackathon actually entails. We would also be able to sneak in some content work with them. Another thing that’s on the back burner is a Content Strategy exercise for the site: having a RCCTT staff member on the team would mean that we could look at doing little bursts of that on the day.