Bootstrapping a community via hackathons

I recently gave an interview to Jasper Van der Jeugt as part of the Haskell Zurich Meetup, on the history of hackathons in the Haskell community, and how we intentionally tried to boostrap and grow an open source tooling and infra team for Haskell, via hackathons, in the 2005-2010 period.

Prior to the launch of cabal and hackage the Haskell development experience was “choose a compiler” and “use fptools” as the core library. There were very few 3rd party libraries (< 20 ?) , only a barebones package system and no centralized distribution of packages.

It was really clear by 2005 that we needed to invest in tooling: build system, package management and package distribution. But without corporate funding for infrastructure, who would do the work? We needed to bootstrap an open source package infrastucture team. Enter the hackathons.

In 2007 we met in Oxford to hack for 3 days to launch Hackage, and make it possible to upload and share packages for Haskell. To do this we wanted to link the build system (cabal) to the package management, upload and download (hackage), leading to the modern world of packages for Haskell, which rapidly accelerated into 10s of thousands of libraries.

The first Haskell infrastructure hackathon team that launched Hackage back in 2007.

Looking back this was a pivotal moment: after Hackage , the open source community rapidly became the primary producer of new Haskell code. Corporate sponsorship of the community increased and a wave of corporate adoption was enabled due to the package distribution system. A research community became a (much larger) open source and then commercial software engineering community. And the key steps were Hackage and Cabal, and some polished core libraries that worked together.

You can see the lessons learned echoed in systems like the Rust cargo and crate system, now. Good languages become sustainable when they become viable open source communities around packages.

You can listen to the interview here: