Introduction to Hackathon

A Hackathon is a design sprint-like event; often, in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, domain experts, and others collaborate intensively on software projects.

The goal of a hackathon is to create functioning software or hardware by the end of the event. Hackathons tend to have a specific focus, which can include the programming language used, the operating system, an application, an API, or the subject and the demographic group of the programmers. In other cases, there is no restriction on the type of software being created.

The word “hackathon” is a portmanteau of the words “hack” and “marathon”, where “hack” is used in the sense of exploratory programming, not its alternate meaning as a reference to computer security.

OpenBSD’s apparent first use of the term referred to a cryptographic development event held in Calgary on June 4, 1999, where ten developers came together to avoid legal problems caused due to export regulations of cryptographic software from the United States. Since then, a further three-to-five events per year have occurred around the world to advance development, generally on university campuses.

For Sun Microsystems, the usage referred to an event at the JavaOne conference from June 15 to June 19, 1999; there John Gage challenged attendees to write a program in Java for the new Palm V using the infrared port to communicate with other Palm users and register it on the Internet.

Starting in the mid to late 2000s, hackathons became significantly more widespread and began to be increasingly viewed by companies and venture capitalists as a way to quickly develop new software technologies, and to locate new areas for innovation and funding. Some major companies were born from these hackathons, such as GroupMe, which began as a project at a hackathon at the TechCrunch Disrupt 2010 conference; in 2011 it was acquired by Skype for $85 million. The software PhoneGap began as a project at the iPhoneDevCamp (later renamed iOSDevCamp) in 2008; the company whose engineers developed PhoneGap, Nitobi, refocused itself around PhoneGap, and Nitobi was bought by Adobe in 2011 for an undisclosed amount.

Hackathons typically start with one or more presentations about the event, as well as about the specific subject, if any. Then participants suggest ideas and form teams, based on individual interests and skills. Then the main work of the hackathon begins, which can last anywhere from several hours to several days. For hackathons that last 24 hours or longer, especially competitive ones, eating is often informal, with participants often subsisting on food like pizza and energy drinks. Sometimes sleeping is informal as well, with participants sleeping on-site with sleeping bags.

At the end of hackathons, there is usually a series of demonstrations in which each group presents their results. To capture the great ideas and work-in-progress often people post a video of the demonstrations, blog about results with screenshots and details, share links and progress on social media, suggest a place for open source code and generally make it possible for people to share, learn from and possibly build from the ideas generated and initial work completed. There is sometimes a contest element as well, in which a panel of judges select the winning teams, and prizes are given. At many hackathons, the judges are made up of organisers and sponsors. At BarCamp-style hackathons, that are organised by the development community, such as iOSDevCamp, the judges are usually made up of peers and colleagues in the field. Such prizes are sometimes a substantial amount of money: a social gaming hackathon at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference offered $250,000 in funding to the winners, while a controversial 2013 hackathon run by Salesforce.com had a payout of $1 million to the winners, billed as the largest-ever prize.

Some hackathons focus on a particular platform such as mobile apps, a desktop operating system, web development or video game development.

Mobile app hackathons like Over the Air, held at Phoenix Park, Ireland, can see a large amount of corporate sponsorship and interest.

There have been hackathons devoted to creating applications that use a specific language or framework, like JavaScript, Node.js, HTML5 and Ruby on Rails.

There have been a number of hackathons devoted to improving government, and specifically to the cause of open government.

A number of hackathons around the world have been planned in memory of computer programmer and internet activist Aaron Swartz, who died in 2013.

Some hackathons are intended only for programmers within a certain demographic group, like teenagers, college students, or women.

Some companies hold internal hackathons to promote new product innovation by the engineering staff. For example, Facebook’s Like button was conceived as part of a hackathon.

Some hackathons (such as StartupBus, founded in 2010 in Australia) combine the competitive element with a road trip, to connect local tech communities in multiple cities along the bus routes. This is now taking place across North America, Europe, Africa and Australasia.

The above is a brief about Hackathon. Watch this space for more updates on the latest trends in Technology.

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