March 2020 marked a turning point for physical tradeshows and events. Faced with travel and gathering restrictions imposed by the pandemic, many companies scrambled to find new ways to connect with their customers. Virtual events quickly rose to the forefront as a preferred venue. But how to make a virtual event as engaging, interactive, and valuable as a physical event had yet to be determined. For Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), this was an important consideration as it planned its premier customer technology event, HPE Discover.
Since the inception of the Discover events, HPE senior executives, technologists, partners, and IT thought leaders found that it was a great way to connect with customers. One of the highlights on the show floor in recent years has been the HPE DEV Hack Shack. There, developers would come and chat with other developers, participate in hands-on workshops, and take coding challenges; all in a relaxed, fun-filled environment.
As the venue changed from being a physical event, the immediate challenge for the HPE DEV team was how to replicate this experience virtually. The Dev team rose to the challenge and successfully attracted over 10,000 visitors during the HPE Discover 2020 Virtual Event. Here’s how they did it.
Bringing the Hack Shack online
While most of the HPE Discover Virtual Experience was hosted on a virtual event platform from Intrado Digital Media, the Hack Shack was linked to as an off-platform site designed by HPE developers, which used Grommet for its underlying web application structure. From the HPE Discover Virtual Event Intrado platform, attendees would click on a link to “enter” the Hack Shack lobby. In the lobby, a quick video tour explained how to navigate the site, pointing out all the different types of activities that were offered during the event.
As one of the major attractions of a physical Hack Shack is the opportunity for attendees to meet up with other developers and subject matter experts (SMEs) in hands-on workshops to learn and transfer knowledge, the virtual Hack Shack needed a way to accomplish something similar. To do this, Dev team members created a set of live workshops where students could interact with the presenter online using Jupyter Notebooks. SMEs were on hand to help facilitate the workshops, answer questions, and ensure no attendee got left behind during the session. This approach proved to be very successful, judging by the high scores given by participants in the post-workshop surveys.
Another popular physical Hack Shack feature the team wanted to incorporate into the virtual experience was its coding challenges. These challenges are timed events where developers are asked to create their own code to achieve a defined function while taking specific parameters into account. They challenge an attendee’s understanding of concepts delivered through the virtual workshops and offer an opportunity to apply what was learned into a real world example. The team is pleased to report that three challenge winners were selected and some cool prizes were awarded.
Fun and games
The Hack Shack is also well-known for its fun Hack Shack Attack! retro arcade style video game. Given the fact that the game is already an app, it was fairly easy to integrate it into the new, online Hack Shack Arcade. This attracted a lot of attendees who competed to achieve the highest score each week, with the weekly winner being awarded a prize along with some serious bragging rights! Stickers and dev art were also offered in the arcade for attendees to download and use for wallpaper or social posts.
A virtual gathering place
The Hack Shack has always been a place for the community to gather. As one might imagine, this is not easily done virtually. Live workshops provided one excellent touch point. The Hack Shack Community page provided another, offering attendees social connection opportunities, like Slack and Twitter, to use to connect with peers. It also highlighted the HPE DEV Newsletter, which not only delivers the latest news directly to subscribers' email box, but also offers an opportunity for community members to submit their own articles to be placed on the HPE DEV blog site. This proved interesting to many, as 146 new members signed up over the course of the event. The Learn On-Demand videos also provided another touch point.
The HPE DEV team worked long and hard to bring this experience online where it can be shared with a much broader audience. We are now participating at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon EU and are planning to offer the Hack Shack at other future virtual events. It’s no surprise that virtual events will continue on into the foreseeable future. As a matter of fact, on June 9, 2020 Brian Nordli posted a blog article on the increasing popularity of virtual events. In it, he pointed out that many people were already planning virtual events for 2021 and 2022. He emphasized why this was by quoting Ben Chodor, president of the virtual event platform company Intrado Digital Media, who remarked “Even when everything gets back to normal, there’s going to be a lot of people who aren’t going to feel comfortable going to Vegas or Orlando with 10,000 other people.”
If you happen to be at any of these virtual events, look up the HPE DEV Hack Shack. If you need hints on how to create something similar for your event, check in with one of our HPE DEV team members on our Slack channel. There’s a good chance they’ll be able to offer some excellent advice.