What is a Hackathon?

Talking about its etymology, a Hackathon is the coming together of two seemingly unrelated words, “hack” and “marathon”. It describes one of the most popular and powerful challenge-solving techniques of the last decade.

This term could mislead those who associate the word “hacking” with computer crimes and cybercriminals. However, this criminal practice has little to do with a Hackathon: “hacking”, in this context, refers to solving technical problems innovatively and unconventionally.

The Hackathons approach is therefore very constructive, as programmers come to these events to work towards creating a useful product or idea.

Nor does the term “marathon” conform to its conventional meaning, since it is not a competition in itself. The Hackathon, on the other hand, takes place in a deliberately limited time: in a few hours or days, the participants have to create usable software code, which translates into an exhausting race to develop applications.

What are Hackathons?

Hackathons are therefore a new way to bring results through a webinar set-up. Hackathons often focus on a certain theme, which in turn influences the participants. In these events, we will find developer conferences on specific types of applications (mobile, web, desktop applications, etc.) created in a specific programming language on the API of a specific service (Facebook, Google) or simply on a general topic ( Open Government, accessibility, etc.).

Some Hackathons also do not have a restrictive thematic delimitation: teams can unleash their creativity. The participants are usually software developers, mainly (but not exclusively) programmers.

Many well-known Hackathons are also specifically geared towards students or beginners. Such a conference can also be a springboard for these particular groups: decision-makers from the IT industry are often present at these events and are interested in discovering new talent.
But there are more reasons for developers to participate in a Hackathon: networking with other specialists and sharing knowledge should not be underestimated.

Also, remember that projects started during a Hackathon can mark the beginning of a long-term collaboration or contract with a software company.
Last but not least, some organizers offer participants different prizes, since many Hackathons are designed as competitions. In these events, a jury selects one or more winners after the presentation of the final projects.

Most Hackathons do not charge a participation fee or limit it to a minimum that covers the cost of organizing. This is also because many of these programming events originate from or are committed to the open-source scene. Therefore, the biggest driver for all participants is likely to be working together to create productive solutions.

Real life Hackathon examples

Hackathons are closely related to software development, but there are also events from other areas: in the global CycleHacks, for example, mechanical bicycle designers and hardware developers meet to co-create solutions to improve bicycle traffic.

Depending on your industry and your objective, the context of a Hackathon varies. For example, we recently saw the Prada Group and the German e-retailer Zalando organizing Hackathon-style events to work on their sustainability strategies.

The Vatican sponsors Hackathon events aimed at finding technological solutions to complex issues such as social inclusion, promoting dialogue between religions, and helping migrants and refugees.

About Odutolu Timothy

Passionate about technology and communication, Timothy Odutolu has more than 5 years of experience writing for various niches in these fields. He's more comfortable writing about the key trends in the business-to-business software-as-a-service (B2B SaaS) niche. He is also a generalist with interests in journalism, DIY and outdoor, and other writing services. He's reachable via Twitter, LinkedIn, and email through odutolutimothy@gmail.com or info@techloging.com.

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