1 month ago, I had never heard of a ‘hackathon’. Like most I related the word ‘hack’ to someone gaining access to other peoples’ computers without their permission. The common reaction to telling people you are going to hack is “what is a hackathon?”
So here is a non- technical explanation (hackathons are most commonly associated with the development of software applications, Big Data and website functionality). Organisers have created some fantastic hackathons around sustainability and service design.
They last 24 hours to one week, a hackathon or simply ‘hack’ as they are sometimes called are rapid prototyping events. The participants are 21st century developers, designers, academics, entrepreneurs, thinkers, dreamers and doers. The combination varies according to the challenge, problem statement or brief.
We interviewed Chris Gatherthon from the FT, who advised us that hackathons were a competitive and fun environment for coders to demonstrate their skills.
The ‘hack’ part is the brainstorming, collaboration, innovation and ideation that occur during the event. This normally happens in small teams that are often made up of strangers from a wide variety of technical and non-technical backgrounds. These teams take an idea to the wire framing and prototyping stage, if not in some cases to a finished product. During the course of the event the teams have opportunities to present their ideas and ask for help from other participants and the organisers.
Interview with Dr Donatus Onwunumah, MD of Pigsty Alley Coders
Once their allotted time is up there is a presentation to a panel of judges, a winning team (or teams) are chosen and are presented with a prize or prize money (up to £50k).
They are fantastic creative and collaborative events and they have had some amazing results. A popular hackathon is Digital Sizzle and Freeformers are targeting the student and female tech market. There are lots of examples of hackathons https://soniameggie.com/2013/06/07/recent-hackathons/.
AngelHack, one of the most prominent hackathons, has always had a very global business model, with their events taking place globally. This year, they are putting on 52 events, with the winning team from each event winning a paid trip to Silicon Valley (to the AngelHack headquarters) where they will be given the chance to improve on their designs and pitch them to business investors. From this they hope to find and fund the “next big thing.”
Corporations are under enormous pressure to get with the 21st century and appear relavent in the digital age. Brand marketers are employed to come up with new and innovative ways of getting people thinking and talking about their brands. In this age of mobile, this means ensuring the brand is available on as many platforms and screens as possible.
The hack event is already facing its own mortality in the blogger sphere. One being that of exploitation, IP, the issue of ownership and profit share.
“Is this a “hackathon” or a let’s work our employees ragged just before the weekend because we know they have no lives outside of our company? The hackathon is a time-honored tradition amongst hobbyists. When done by professionals, it’s not cool, it’s exploitative” Anon.
“I’m tired of corporations ‘inviting’ us to do their work for them.” Jamie Smyth CEO, @TheSmythGroup and Founder, @TypeEngine
There are lots of hackathons held for the greater good or for the benefit of the participants themselves (hackathons sponsored by open government data.)
By Sonia Meggie, Michael J. Moran and Jorge Baez Nieto.