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I am on the committee for the Open Repositories conference. This year in Edinburgh I chaired the judging panel for the “Developer Challenge”, the development (or ideas) competition that runs inside the conference. Over the years I’ve been in a number of these things as a contestant, a judge, and last year one of the facilitators.

NOTE: In this post I speak for myself, and not for the committee or for JISC/DevCSI who run this challenge.

I think that the challenge is widely believed to be an important part of the conference, and the live pitches (with beer for all) are valuable and entertaining. But there’s always discussion about whether we’ve got the mix right. Should people be writing code? Is it healthy for developers to hang out in the developer lounge and miss papers? How can repository managers get more involved? Is this a way to get cheap development done on our repository platforms?

And there are issues about the makeup of the developer community. For example this year’s winner Patrick McSweeney asked, how can we get more women involved?

I think sometimes the answers are elusive because we don’t step back and think about what we’re trying to achieve.

So, in the spirit of the Agile Manifesto, how does this draft sound?

We want to provide opportunities for growth for our software developers and show our support and appreciation by providing them with an event, the developer challenge, that is fulfilling for them and also valuable for the Open Repositories community.
Through this event we have come to value:

Transparent, fun, open collaboration in diversely constituted teams over individual brilliance and/or groups of like individuals in cut-throat competition.

The creation of new professional networks over the ossification of old ones.

Effective engagement of non-developers (researchers, repository managers) in development over purely developer driven projects.

Work done at the conference over presentation of something prepared earlier.

Innovative ideas expressed in running code over **** wireframes, hand waving and elevator pitches.

The development of the Open Repositories movement as a whole over siloed development on particular repository platforms.

Entertaining live presentation of challenge projects in a relaxed setting over formal submissions.

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more in the context of the developer challenge at the Open Repositories conference.

Paradoxically, while there is a competitive element to the challenge, many of the values which I think really underpin  the challenge are about collaboration over competition. In 2011, for example the winning entry was a team formed from two separate teams who met in the lounge and workshopped their ideas together. This was in line with the values I suggest above, and was definitely taken into account in the judging. I was not a judge but I was helping them[1].

Like I said, this is a proposal only, I’m publishing this draft for comment, and will be putting this to the Open Repositories committee, to see if they like this approach. If we can agree on some values, then the next step would be to structure the judging in order to maximise the value.

These kinds of challenge/competition happen in other conferences in and contexts, what do you all think?


[1] Me, I’m looking forward to the year everyone collaborates on one mega-entry and splits the money


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