Hackathons/Handbook/Mentoring program

A good way to make your event newcomer friendly is by implementing a Mentoring program for your hackathon, here are some examples of mentoring programs, buddy systems and newcomers support from events around the world!

Related chapter: Newcomers

Wikimedia Hackathon 2018 Mentoring Program


An overview of the Wikimedia Hackathon 2018 Mentoring program can be found here.

Main changes include:

  • Stronger focus on supporting and training mentors
  • More flexibility for mentors and newcomers to participate in different capacities
  • Mentors contact and welcome newcomers in advance of the event 1:1
  • A focus on pre-hackathon participant matching unrelated to the mentoring program for participants who would like a friendly-face but may not want to be involved in the mentoring program.

Wikimania Hackathon 2017 Mentoring Program


See: Hackathons/Handbook/Mentoring program/Wikimania 2017#An overview of the mentoring program plan for Wikimania Hackathon 2017 in Montreal

Wikimedia Hackathon 2017 Mentoring Program


Definition: What is the Mentoring Program?


The mentoring program is a more guided approach to onboard newcomers. It leans on the help of experienced Wikimedians who will be at the hackathon exclusively as mentors. The focus is to welcome more newcomers into the community, by introducing them to the different aspects of working with MediaWiki, and help them achieve their own first steps during the hackathon weekend. Additionally, we want to create a welcoming social atmosphere, so we can further diversity and growth in our community.

Roles and responsibilities


Experienced developers or MediaWiki maintainers who enjoy working with beginners, are open and patient and like to help. They will come up with newcomer-friendly projects and ideas and, during the whole weekend, work with groups of about two to six newcomers, to help them with the whole onboarding process, and make their way into the great Wikimedia tech community as easy and as much fun as possible. Note that nobody should ever feel forced to be a mentor – this is a strictly voluntary role, but can be taken up by both Wikimedia employees and volunteer developers. (See chapter: Volunteer roles)

A mentor is not a buddy: Read more about the buddy system below. It's advised to actively avoid the use of the term "buddy" in the Mentoring Program, as a way to distinguish the guided mentoring role from the self-organized buddy-role and also demonstrate the differences in the roles (being a mentor requires more commitment than being a buddy). It will certainly happen that participants and maybe also team uses this term, and it’s of course no problem, but let’s not use it in our official communication to avoid confusion!

A mentor is not a host (See: Volunteer roles)

A mentor follows the mentoring guide.


(a.k.a. mentees) are the ones we do this program for: They will work with the mentors on projects, if they choose to join the Mentoring Program (generally, most newcomers do, unless they already come with a group/ project idea).

Depending on your event and the participants, you will have different sizes of mentor-newcomer teams. Ideally, each mentor teams up with about 1-4 newcomers.

The Mentoring Program coordinator(s)

He/she/they will develop the program to fit to the specific event, recruit mentors before the event and make sure that they have the structure to work: Coordinate their efforts before and during the event, provide a framework where mentors and newcomers can find each other, and help them get what they need.

History: This program builds on lessons learned


The Mentoring Program (in the above definition) was first implemented at the Wikimedia Hackathon 2017 Vienna. A less intensive program was implemented at the Wikimania Hackathon 2017 in Montreal. See Hackathons/Handbook/Mentoring program/Wikimania 2017 for details about both.

The Buddy System


The first initiative for newcomers, the Buddy System, was introduced at the Wikimedia Hackathon 2015 in Lyon.

A buddy is defined as an experienced user who is willing to help out newcomers. One-on-one ratio was planned; being a buddy was not exclusive to doing your own work. The guidelines for buddies were rather wide. The organization process was left to be mostly self-organized. Buddies and newcomers could register on a mediawiki page, as “looking for a buddy” or “confirmed buddy”. While the idea to help newcomers was appreciated, the process felt a forced for some, esp. WMF employees, others were a bit lost. Suggestions for improvements called for an improved pairing process (e.g. based on projects, not people, and giving people the option to switch), guidelines for best practices (how to be a good buddy) and managing expectations in advance. (Link to lessons learned from Lyon 2015)

The mentoring program is being developed to be a more guided, documented, and participatory process.

The buddy system was used again at other hackathons. While it changed a bit for each event, the basics stayed the same as in Lyon: suggestions rather than concrete guidelines, during the event always self-organized by buddies/newcomers and not managed by the event team.

  • Wikimedia Hackathon 2016 Jerusalem
    • Pre-hackathons/ install-parties were held
    • Special design: separate badges for newcomers (Stormtrooper) and experienced users (Darth Vader).
  • Hackathon at Wikimania 2016 Esino Lario
    • email to mentors (5 days before event), email to newcomers (5 days before event)
    • Newcomers were given resources (link to instructions on how to use phabricator, how to become a MediaWiki hacker, required laptop setup) and infos (basic technical knowledge is required; come to the opening ceremony to find a project)
    • Mentors were asked to: sign up for an introductory talk, develop ideas suitable for newcomers and volunteer at the helpdesk, present their projects at the opening ceremony, prepare little task and add #easy tag to projects on phabricator, be generally welcoming.
  • Wikimedia Conference 2017 (March/April) in Berlin
    • They had a buddy project - page on the conference wiki, and placards during the conference
    • Special design, used on placards and stickers for name badges: (grown dinosaur for experienced users, hatching dino for newcomers)
    • WMDE staff managed the pairing. Buddies and newcomers met at the pre-conference or at the first evening.
  • Wikimedia Hackathon 2017 Vienna
    • Mentoring meetings
    • Mentors / Newcomers poster & matching session
    • Dedicated working space for mentored projects
    • A dedicated event staff to manage and program during the event
  • Hackathon at Wikimania 2017 Montreal
    • Orientation Session for newcomers before mentoring program starts
    • Mentors make posters in advance of meeting newcomers
    • Poster session becomes "science fair" style instead of "presentation style"
    • Mentoring program more integrated with main Hackathon
    • Blog post (will add link once it goes live)
  • Wikimedia Hackathon 2018
    • Tips for mentors (link coming soon)
    • More flexibility & categories of participation types to suite different mentor & newcomer needs

Step 1: Engage and prepare mentors


Make a list of people who want to be mentors

  • Make a spreadsheet of people who marked themselves as mentors in the registration form
  • and a separate one who registered as newcomers - do this as soon as registration is closed!
  • Treat WMF employees same as volunteer developers

Establish a core mentor team for your first line of approach

  • These are people you personally know to be definitely qualified for the mentoring program - regarding technical skills but more over motivation to teach and social skills
  • They will help you shape the outline of possible projects
  • If you have pre-hackathons in your local area, mentors of those should be in the core team
  • Get a list of suggestions from WMF team

Send Email(s) to mentors


Example: Wikimedia Hackathon 2017/Mentoring Program#Emails

Create Form for them to fill out as a first participatory action

Questions to ask:

  • What’s your T-shirt size? :)
  • Do you already have experience with tutoring/ mentoring?
  • Do you already have any ideas for projects? If so, please outline them here in one sentence/ keywords (writing a simple bot, writing an extension, etc.) and put them up on phabricator.
Send at least 3 emails to mentors

The preparation requires a committed coordinator who can take the time to write and reply to emails in a personalized way.

Have a guide for mentors for the hackathon


use the mentoring guide below or adapt it to your needs

Make it a point to appreciate mentors for their engagement as often as possible

  • Tell them how much you value their commitment, and show that we appreciate their role as heart of the initiative to get more newcomers on board
  • Show their special status at the event (e.g. at the Wikimedia Hackathon 2017 Vienna, mentors were given a T-shirt with an owl motive)
  • Introduce them during opening ceremony, invite them up to the stage, with special cheers
  • Special token of appreciation: a special gift given to them at the closing ceremony (e.g. at the Wikimedia Hackathon 2017 Vienna, mentors were given a special silver coin at the closing ceremony)
  • Round of applause for them during closing ceremony, too

Step 2: Create and Share Content


Share all the info you already have at a ‘Mentoring Program’ sub-site on your event page

  • make this your landing page for mentors and newcomers and other participants alike.
  • This prepares both mentors and newcomers in advance!
  • Also, it stresses the importance of this program, with regular participants too, and it makes the whole program more visible and transparent.

This page should contain:

  • Mission statement
    • Definition of the mentoring program and why it’s important to us
  • Lists of confirmed mentors
    • So newcomers can look it over to meet them in advance
    • Mentors can add a description of themselves, or a quote, and their contact details if they like
  • Link to possible projects on features projects page in MediaWiki
  • Resources for newcomers
  • Schedule of mentoring program during the hackathon
  • Opening ceremony together, then mentors and newcomers will go to separate room to meet each other and get acquainted, afterwards they separate into groups to work on projects.
  • Develop this in close cooperation with WMF Developer Relations team
  • for a more detailed description of the schedule, see below

Templates and examples for a Mentoring Program landing page:

Send Email(s) to newcomers 

  • Prepare them by giving them information: This is how the mentoring program will go down, have a look at the landing page: These are your technical requirements.
  • Invite them to tag themselves as newcomers in participants list – mentors can use this information to prepare
  • Example: Wikimedia Hackathon 2017/Mentoring Program#Emails

Set up communication channel for mentors

  • So they can prepare and meet among each other, share experiences etc.
  • Beneficial for team-building spirit and fun
  • Use a mailing list (suggestion for improvement after Wikimedia Hackathon 2017 Vienna)
  • Use Telegram group chat:

Mentoring Program Schedule at the event


Actual matching takes place on the first day of the hackathon


When? Day 1, for 2 hours right after the opening

Where? Ideally in the same room as the opening!

  • Do not assign people like on blind dates - let them choose for themselves.
  • On the first day of the hackathon, newcomers and mentors will meet in person before choosing to work together for 3 days.
  • Make this meeting nice and friendly, with a get-to-know-each-other part like during the pre-hackathons.
  • A time slot of 2 hrs after the opening ceremony should be set aside for this.
  • Mentoring program coordinator should come up with a detailed program for this slot.
  • Mentors will pitch their projects, and newcomers will sort themselves according to interests.

Anticipating potential problems: What if there are too many people in one group and too few people in other groups? Solution: Mentors will have to be flexible. If there are too many people in one group, they can either split up or …?

Exemplary Schedule

11:30 Everyone arrives, gets settled
11:40 Welcome!

Introductory words on mentoring program. We value Newcomers!

  • local chapter executive director says a few words (1 minute)
  • WMF developer says a few words (1 minute)
11:45 Ice breakers

position yourself in room according to questions: 

1. First hackathon - many Hackathons - give a big applause for newcomers

2. when was your last backup?

3. Experience with Wikipedia:  (easy yes/no questions)

Have you edited Wikipedia, or other wikis, before? (Yes – I've tried – No)

Have you written program code before? (Yes – I've tried – No)

4.  what's your coffeine of choice? coffee or tea (or chocolate or mate) 

12:00 Introduction mentors & projects:

Tell a tiny bit about yourself, pitch your projects and write keywords on a flipchart-paper (=poster)

1-2 mins per mentor: (27 mentors x 2 mins = 54 minutes, so please keep it short)

Make 1 poster for the project you are pitching, and for the the areas of expertise (e.g. technologies) you can help with.

12:45 Newcomers choose projects
  • mentors spread in the room with their flipchart-papers
  • each newcomer gets 3-5 post-its, they write their name on it
  • Newcomers walk around, like on a market place, add post-its with their name to the projects they like and chat with mentors
  • Newcomers add post-its to more projects than one!
13:15 Final Check

Newcomers stand next to projects they like best

Organizers check: are the newcomers equally distributed? 

If there are too many newcomers for 1 project:

Can 2 or more mentors team up and maybe merge their projects?

Maybe some newcomers want to choose another project (2nd favorite?) 

If there are newcomers who don’t find a project or can’t decide on one: Are there mentors who can offer them support anyways?

Mentors have to be flexible.

Organizers have to help with overlooking the matching process.

13:30 Close Session

official matching finished!

point out upcoming newcomer-targeted sessions in the schedule

Announce / schedule mentor meeting for the next day

Improve the matching process


At the Wikimedia Hackathon 2017 Vienna, the Mentoring Program was first tried out. While the program went well and got good feedback, an area for improvement is the matching process.

  • Some mentors could not find newcomers.
  • maybe make a poster: "floating mentors" / "unassigned mentors" 
  • this should happen in the registration: have a few questions to segment newcomers
  • Success Stories going well, we had a concrete target, we teamed up with other mentors, we stepped on community requests, there was already a phabricator task on that
  • it's important to be on the lookout for potential newcomers to mentor
  • maybe before have a session to find out what the participants want? > after this is clear, you can direct them to mentors
  • in advance prep is necessary: cluster projects and mentors an advance
  • like the presentations we had in the morging on friday, we do this in advacne and then group projects in advance 

Schedule sessions for beginners


Prepare sessions like

  • Introduction to Phabricator
  • MediaWiki Extensions
  • Have an install party for MediaWiki on the first day (and optionally, on day 2 and day 3, too)

Send frequent updates via Telegram and IRC, important info via email


More important things should be sent via email (maximum once per day)

The connection between mentors is really important for the program to work well!

Have a designated Mentoring Area


As a working space, but also as a place where mentors and newcomers can meet.

Set it up in the big hacking space or in a separate room - it should be accessible and inviting.

Make a sign that says "Mentoring Area" and hang it up!

Have mentors visibly stand out, so that newcomers can find them easily


With a brightly colored item. Ideas:

  • T-shirt
  • Sash/scarf
  • Cape
  • Hawaiian leis
  • Mardi gras beads
  • Hat

Have short, frequent meetings with mentors + newcomers

  • Have newcomers and mentors start the day together: Just a brief, 10 minute good morning, time to ask questions and find each other
  • Collect feedback from mentors in the evening at a mentor meeting - maybe you can implement ideas for improvement right away?

More Ideas to develop the Mentoring Program further




A bar, like an info-desk, where newcomers or anyone with questions can walk up and get information. It would be staffed by mentors, who do shifts.

More install parties


Have an install party not only on the first day, but also on day 2 and day 3.

Timeline to coordinate the Mentoring Program


The mentoring program coordinator should adjust this timeline to the needs of your specific event.

4 weeks before the hackathon

  • Mentoring Program landing page is up on event wiki
  • Potential mentors got first email
  • First Phabricator projects are started (coordinate with WMF Developer Relations team)

3 weeks before the hackathon

  • potential mentors have responded
  • Mentoring Program landing page is updated with these infos:
    • How to create projects on phabricator
    • More info on the Schedule/ process of the program
    • These people will be your mentors
  • 1st email to newcomers is sent
  • More projects appear on phabricator

2 weeks before the hackathon

  • More mentors will respond
  • Communication channel for mentors is set up

1 week before the hackathon

  • Mentors have their projects ready
  • Final follow ups

Day before the hackathon

  • have a first mentor meeting to go over everything in person

During the hackathon

  • After opening, newcomer and mentor session starts
  • Document process as detailed as possible
  • Mentoring Program coordinator helps mentors out actively: ask them what they need, how we can facilitate their work
  • Mentors should be credited during opening and closing ceremony
  • Mentor-newcomer meeting once every morning, to start the day together
  • Mentor-meeting once every evening, for supervision and feedback

After the hackathon

  • Collect feedback
  • Document lessons learned
  • Maintain network via established communication channels
  • Local newcomers in your area: follow up event 

Wikimedia Conference Buddy Program


What is the Buddy Project?


It is an overwhelming experience to be part of an event such as the Wikimedia Conference, especially if you have never been at an event like this before. For the first time we would like to connect new and experienced participants. Our aim is that through this offer everyone can make the most of their experience and take as many impressions, contacts, ideas and inspirations home with them as possible.

The idea is to match two participants, who are interested in joining this idea, preferably one who’s been on a Wikimedia Conference at least once and one who hasn’t – but that’s not a must. Additionally, the matching process will be influenced by the participants’ individual interests and expectations they will state in their registration. Participants will be matched by the WMDE staff and will get to know their buddy at the pre-conference or at the first conference evening (on Thursday) at the latest.

If both Buddies agree, they may exchange email addresses in advance so they can get in touch before the conference.

Who can take part?


The project mainly aims to include new people in the international community of Wikimedia but is open for everyone, who would like to take part and thinks that she or he has experiences or knowledge to share with others and/or would like to learn something new.

What would being part of the Buddy Project mean?

For newcomers
Newcomers will have someone they can turn to specifically with any questions they might have, either concerning the conference in particular or the Wikimedia Movement in general. They will also have a first contact person, which will contribute to a quick and effortless involvement into the Wikimedia Conference and the Movement itself. Getting in touch with other participants by benefitting from the contacts their allocated Buddy has established already will also help newcomers to build their own network.
For experienced participants
Taking part as an experienced participant would mean having the chance to pass on own experiences and at the same time obtain new input and perspectives on various topics. They may help newcomers to build their own network and provide good conditions for an effortless start into the Movement in order to contribute to the enormous important goal to ensure a continuous involvement of new Wikimedians.
Of course, the Buddy Project is based on voluntary participation. There are no mandatory sessions for buddies or any other obligations whatsoever. Still, the idea is that Buddies meet from time to time, for example during breaks, which will give them the chance to discuss the Conference or just get to know each other. No one is forced to do anything she or he doesn’t want to do – although we would be happy if as many as possible would take part!