Incongruous digs

By James Cook on August 12th, 2013

Around a hundred or so developers and creative types arrived at the current darling of the high-end start-up scene: The South Place Hotel. It is, however, a strange environment to hold a hackathon, and one that clearly unnerved many of the people who had paid £100 for a ticket to stay across the weekend and turn data into a creative project.

The first floor of the South Place Hotel, for three days: home of the art hackathon.

The first floor of the South Place Hotel, for three days: home of the art hackathon.

The hotel seems better suited to meetings between venture capitalists  than a torrent of bearded hackers wielding laptops and Raspberry Pis.

The hackathon began on the Friday night with an introduction delivered by Michael from Three Beards. It was followed by a lengthy and rather boring demo from each of the sponsors. Admittedly, I didn’t make it through the whole thing.

Michael Hobson (left) of 3beards delivers the opening talk.

Michael Hobson (left) of 3beards delivers the opening talk.

The participants decamped to the plush lounge area for food and more beer. Despite the food running out rather quickly, it was interesting to see teams forming over lager and couscous.

An impromptu demonstration of the Leap Motion leads to a team forming in the middle of the main room.

An impromptu demonstration of the Leap Motion leads to a team forming in the middle of the main room.

There was an exodus of gold wristbands (organisers, mentors, journalists and production crew) to the outside bar as the real networking began, giving everyone time to find the talent they needed.

I observed one meeting that highlighted the awkward necessity of finding team members at a hackathon.

“Hi, you’re a web developer, what do you do? Where do you live? Let’s work together!”

Later on, after teams had been finalised, beer had been drunk, food eaten and sleeping arrangements resolved, he turned to his team member and asked “What’s your name?”

Chatting with some of the participants showed a general level of readiness that hovered between boundless enthusiasm and apprehension. Syd Lawrence from Twilio was there as judge, sponsor, mentor and participant. With him, he’d brought a bunch of music controllers and a vague idea of what he wanted to work on.

As sleeping arrangements were hurriedly worked out, various items of technology materialised as brainstorming sessions became more excited. Bicycles, circuit boards, TV screens, all flowed upwards from the downstairs bar area.

While the next two days would see the hectic work take place, it was fascinating to see the ideas and creativity take place in the relatively-alien environment of a luxury hotel.

Selected works from the Digital Sizzle Art Hackathon will be displayed in the lobby of the South Place hotel during the weekend of the 17-18 August.