Hackaday Prize 2015 Judging Plan

September 9, 2015

Hackaday Prize judging is coming. This is both exciting and nervous making.

I learned so much about different technologies and approaches last year. I felt so inadequate to the task of judging the amazing projects. I’m not a hacker. I am an industry engineer. They are different skillset with only a bit of overlap. I worried my scores would highlight my background, missing things the Hackaday community would find most interesting.

In the last year, I’ve participated more in the community (ok, only a little, I still have work to do). More importantly, I’ve thought more about judging and how to do it better. For the most part my new insights come from two TV shows: Chopped and Fool Us.

Chopped is a cooking competition, the competitors and judges are chefs. The judges can be quite harsh in their criticism though sometimes the judges don’t agree.  The contestants have to listen to the comments. The contestants I like always say “thank you” for the comments though some cry and others argue. I don’t want to be a judge that makes people seethe.

Chopped has been on a long time and the judging has developed over time. I like it when the judges take the perspective that their role is to protect the show’s $10,000 prize so it goes to the best contestant. I’m adopting that. My role is not to try to make sure the prizes go to the projects that most deserve them.

The other show, Fool Us, is a new magic show where magicians try to fool the legendary Penn and Teller. They’ve done all the magic tricks so people have to be pretty inventive to fool them. The prize is to be part of their show (no monetary prize); they aren’t protecting it at all. They are looking for wonder. I’m not sure I can make that a judging criterion for myself.

I really like how Penn is complimentary in the judging. He always says something really gracious. He finds the thing they did most right and points it out. He occasionally has growth suggestions but those are not given as “you did this wrong” but “you did great, you could do even better if…” I want to be that kind of judge.

Engineering is difficult. Competing is difficult. Doing all this in public is daunting. I’m sure everyone knows what they should have done, what they meant to do if only they had time. Most engineers are pretty good at picking ourselves and our projects apart. My goal will be to note the parts that surprise, educate, and inspire me.