BrickHack 2016 and Fedora: Event Report

Over the weekend of March 5th – 6th, 2016, the Fedora Project sponsored BrickHack 2016. BrickHack 2016 is a hackathon event hosted at the Rochester Institute of Technology. What exactly is BrickHack? The organizers describe it as the following:

March 5-6 ignites a weekend devoted to 400 designers and coders sinking 24 hours into learning, building, and creating unique projects. Mentors and industry representatives will also join the fray to lend expertise and share wisdom. The event will take place in RIT’s Gordon Field House for a centralized, communal hacking experience. Expect food, swag, and timeless brick-laden memories.

As an event sponsor, the Fedora Ambassadors of North America had a table for the event. The Ambassadors offered mentorship and assistance to BrickHack 2016 programmers, gave away some free Fedora swag, and offered an introduction to Linux, open source, and the community. This report is a recollection of some highlights from the event and also focuses on the impact we made as an event sponsor.

Getting set up at BrickHack 2016

The Fedora team first arrived for setup bright and early on Saturday morning. We began setting up our table around 7:30am. BrickHack 2016 took place in RIT’s Gordon Field House, which is one of the larger buildings on campus. Everything for the hackathon had been set up the previous evening. It was strange to see so many empty tables and chairs. But it wouldn’t be like this for much longer.

BrickHack 2016: Charles Profitt (cprofitt) talks to BrickHack participants about Fedora

Charles Profitt (cprofitt) speaks to interested visitors about Fedora and how to use Linux as a learning tool.

The doors opened for registration at 10:30am. As the morning went on, the field house become filled with people attending the hackathon. There were 363 people in attendance at BrickHack. Hacking wouldn’t officially begin until 2:00pm, so there was a lot of time for hackers to meet and interact with the sponsor tables. The Fedora table was no exception, and there were frequent visitors at the table before the hacking time began.

As an institute of technology, there were many developers and tech-savvy people at the event. A good number of people who came up to our table had heard of Fedora before, but didn’t know much about the community, the project, or what made Fedora different. Our Ambassadors at the event did a great job of representing the project and talking about the unique features of Fedora 23. On the other hand, there were also many people who wanted to try to Linux but were afraid about how to start! With install DVDs on hand and a USB burner ready to go, the Ambassadors were ready to help interested students and hackers get started with Fedora.

Planning out artwork for a project at BrickHack 2016.

Some of the hackers at BrickHack 2016 are working on artwork for their project.

Mike DePaulo (mikedep333), a Fedora Ambassador, brought along his MacBook, which was a triple-boot install between Windows, OS X, and Fedora. Several students took interest in this, and Mike was able to detail how he did it. He worked closely with a student named Mikhael about dual-booting his own MacBook to run Fedora at the event.

As someone with experience as a system administrator, Charles Profitt (cprofitt), another Ambassador, was able to answer questions regarding to deploying Fedora in a server. He also answered general questions about Linux servers. Charles also has experience in the educational field since he works as a system administrator for a local school district, and he was able to tie his experiences into his answers.

Many other students came up to the table before the hackathon officially began. We interacted with several students and helped establish ourselves as mentors as well. Additionally, we also had a badge that attendees could scan to get added to their FAS account!

Hackers begin working on BrickHack 2016 projects

BrickHack 2016: Crowds nearing 300 people showed up

363 people were in attendance for BrickHack 2016.

Once the event officially began, teams of people began working on their projects. Many people had grand ideas of projects to cram into the one weekend. For a brief time, the Ambassadors had a chance to rest from answering questions and helping people with their own hardware.

The hackers began settling into a groove for the evening. Once things had kicked off, it was awesome to see how full the space was. The energy was high and attendees were passionate about their ideas.

Teaching open source and Fedora

After the hacking began, there were tech talks offered by a variety of sponsoring organizations. As the sponsor of the “Best in FOSS” category, Fedora’s Remy DeCausemaker (decause) gave a talk titled “Introduction to FOSS Contribution and Licensing“. In his talk, he went over the basics of contributing to free and open source software projects, licensing your work under open source licenses, and everything in between. There was a live question pad that attendees could edit in their questions to ask at the end of the talk.

There was a lot of personal engagement at the talk and many people who attended were looking at getting involved with open source projects already. They weren’t sure of how to take the first steps. Through an hour of guidance, Remy demonstrated the essential requirements of getting “bootstrapped” to contribute. You can find a text log of the talk here.

Overnight at the Fedora table

BrickHack 2016: Two students are interested in contributing to Fedora

Two visitors to the Fedora table, Imran and Alex, went above and beyond and wanted to get started contributing to Fedora. They’re both looking at getting involved with the Fedora Security Team.

As the day turned into night, the home stretch of the hackathon was beginning. Those with firm ideas were deeply focused on their projects. Others were taking their plans back to the drawing board to overcome unexpected difficulties. Things began settling down for the night.

Around this time, we had waves of interested hackers in Fedora, open source software, and Linux approach the table. This time was great for personalized, one-on-one conversations with visitors. Many excellent connections were made during this time!

There were a few faces that stuck out to us over the course of the hackathon. Some visitors were already looking at contributing to Fedora even before BrickHack 2016! However, they were unsure of what they could do to help and were afraid of being under-qualified. For the night, they hung out with the team at the Fedora table. We helped show them that they were perfectly able to contribute with their current set of skills. We also set them up with the tools they needed to participate in the community. Justin W. Flory, one of the Ambassadors in attendance, set up IRC bouncers for two of the visitors at the table.

BrickHack 2016: One student worked overnight with the team to get his Fedora Workstation set up and customized

A late night visitor to the Fedora table, Daniel Holton (right), worked with Neil (left) and Justin (not pictured) to install Fedora on his laptop to write code for the Oculus Rift.

Three of the folks who stuck around the longest were awarded a limited edition badge, the BrickHack 2016 Open Source Winner badge, for their spirit and energy over the weekend. These three contributors are:

Judging BrickHack 2016 “Best in FOSS”

The night eventually ended. Many slept, some did not. The official deadline for all projects to be finished was 12:00pm on Sunday. Justin stayed at the table overnight until the next morning to watch over the table. As the morning crept on, those who went back to a room to sleep for the night returned. The rest of the Fedora team began arriving too. Once 11:00am rolled around, there was a final push for hackers to make final changes to their project and polish their final product.

The Sealify team at BrickHack 2016

The “Sealify” team submitted their project to the “Best in FOSS” category. Their app made encrypted communications via email simpler.

After the deadline passed, the judging phase began. Remy joined forces with a professor from the FOSS@MAGIC program at RIT, Professor Stephen Jacobs. Together, the two traveled table to table visiting the projects of everyone who submitted to “Best in FOSS“. Some of the demonstrations added an extra perspective that we wouldn’t have seen just from text.

By the end, it was a close call to make. Together, Remy and Stephen tallied their votes and came up with a list of winners. The final list of winners is as follows.

BrickHack 2016: Chris Bitler hacks on a Pebble Watch app for IRC notifications

RIT student Chris Bitler created an app for the Pebble Watch that sends IRC notifications when your name is mentioned. He won an honorable mention in “Best in FOSS” for a solo project.

A special thanks goes out to all who participated in the “Best in FOSS” category. There were many amazing projects and the decision was difficult to make!

BrickHack 2016: Winners of Fedora's "Best in FOSS" category receive prizes

The winners of Fedora’s “Best in FOSS” category receive their prizes.

Gauging impact

From a data standpoint, there was a lot of work spent before BrickHack 2016 to make sure we could measure our impact.

Badges

BrickHack 2016: Mozillan Mike Nolan (nolski) and Fedoran Remy DeCausemaker (decause)

Mozillan Mike Nolan (nolski) and Remy DeCausemaker (decause) representing Fedora and Mozilla at BrickHack 2016.

We leveraged Fedora Badges as a tool to help tell the story of our impact at the event. Through Badges, we can see a list of FAS accounts that claimed the badge from the event and see the activity of these accounts in the long run, similar to Bee Padalkar‘s analysis of FOSDEM.

  • BrickHack 2016 Attendee
    • Given to anyone who scanned the QR code or followed the link to claim the badge
    • 23 out of 363 attendees claimed the badge (6.3% of all attendees)
      • Compared to FOSDEM: 77 out of ~5000 attendees claimed the badge (1.5% of all attendees)
      • More personalized, focused, and individual impact among attendees
  • BrickHack 2016 Open Source Winner
    • Awarded to anyone who received an award from “Best in FOSS”
      • In progress of contacting winners and doing project profiles of their work
    • Also awarded to booth visitors who showed exceptional interest and passion about Fedora (three attendees earned the badge this way)

Pictures

During the event, the Ambassadors team made sure to take many pictures. The pictures we took help demonstrate the impact we had at BrickHack 2016 with hackers, event organizers, and other general observers during the weekend.

One of my favorite pictures from the event was on Saturday night, when the Fedora and Mozilla teams combined tables to have our own “mini hackathon” at BrickHack 2016. In addition to the Fedora Ambassadors, we had Mozilla student ambassadors, Datto employees, and several students join us to hack on Fedora projects, like Fedora Hubs. We also helped teach the basics of IRC and Fedora Badges to several of those at the table.

Fedora and Mozilla join forces at BrickHack 2016 to work on projects

The Fedora team begins their own mini hackathon, combining the forces of Fedora and Mozilla. Many interested attendees joined in at our table!

Event Report

Documenting the event is equally important as the pictures, the badges, the metrics, and more. This report intends to serve as a case example for Fedora Ambassadors across the region and the world for what worked successfully at BrickHack 2016 and what did not. By sharing the experiences from this event, we hope that other Ambassadors will make use of this as well.

Additionally, Ambassador Mike DePaulo wrote his own event report on his personal blog.

Looking to the future

Thanks to the BrickHack 2016 attendees and organizers, the Fedora Ambassadors, the Mozilla and Datto teams, and Fedora leadership for the energy, excitement, and support for BrickHack 2016. Special thank you to BlueHost for contributing sponsored prizes in the “Best in FOSS” category! We can’t wait to come back again next year!

Categories: Ambassadors, Events

3 Comments

  1. Nice article jflory. Nice to see that so many university students are willing to contribute to Fedora. I think, organizing small hackathons like this are more effective than large gatherings.

    • Based on my own personal experiences over the past month, I feel like this size of people was just right. It was enough people where we were kept busy, but not so many people where we were unable to have unique, personal engagements. I am very satisfied with how BrickHack went and I hope we can replicate this across the region for FAmNA, and possibly other regions too.

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