What is a Hackathon?
A Hackathon is typically a twenty-four to forty-eight hour software development event.
A newly assembled development team builds a functional software for group demonstration at the end of the event.
Most of the time the Hackathon Team Members have never met before the first day of the Hackathon.
Web or Mobile Applications are the most popular development projects, but component layers such as Web APIs to Cloud Services are also popular.
Actual hardware devices with embedded software have been subjects of company sponsored successful Hackathons.
The “Working Software” is generally a “Proof of Concept” of some new feature or component for an existing product but it can be a completely new idea.
A Well Organized Hackathon
… Cultivates Creative Thoughts
…… Though Demonstrative Actions
Hackathons offer Good Developers a Forum
to Showcase their Software Artistry in an
Interactive Networking Environment
for World Stage Exposure
Hackathons: The Beginning
The term “Hackathon” is a hybrid of “Hack” and “Marathon“, where “Hack” is used in the sense of a quick exploratory programming engagement and not it’s other reference to a type of computer crime.
The term seems to have been created independently by both the developers of OpenBSD and the marketing team of Sun, both appeared in 1999.
OpenBSD’s apparent first use of the term referred to a Cryptographic Development event held in Calgary on June 4, 1999.
Conventional wisdom has ten developers coming together to avoid legal issues related export regulations of Cryptographic Software from the United States.
For the Sun usage it refers to an event at the JavaOne conference in June of 1999.
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.
The event was dubbed “The Hackathon“.
In the mid to late 2000’s Hackathons became noticeably more widespread.
They started to be seen by various companies and venture capitalists as a way to quickly develop new software technologies as “Low Cost Proof of Technology Concepts” for locating new ideas for Technology Innovation and VC Funding.
Some major companies were born from these Hackathons:
GroupMe – Began as a project at a Hackathons at the TechCrunch Disrupt 2010 conference; in 2011 it was acquired by Skype for $85 million.
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.
Facebook held a Hackathon and a result was the “Like Button” on their Webpages.
Hackathons have created a vehicle for charities as well as profit-centric events.
Events such as Caritakathon, a combination of Caritas, a Latin term for charity or Virtue, and Hackathon, is a 2-day event done in Hackathon format and Code Louisville each have teams design & build websites for charitable and non-profit organizations.
Hackathons, such as Silicon Valley’s CODESTRONG All-night Hackathon, had ten teams of mobile developers burned the midnight oil to deliver brand-new mobile apps to ten charities
This helped these worthy causes to accelerate their fundraising efforts by tapping into the power of the mobile platforms.
Appcelerator Professional Services remained on site offering coaching, support, and troubleshooting from the event’s 9 pm Sunday kick-off to its 9 am Monday wrap-up.
Before you had your morning coffee that day, each charity had a working app worth over $50,000.
- The Avril Lavigne Foundation – Award-winning singer/songwriter and philanthropist Avril Lavigne launched created her foundation in 2010. The Avril Lavigne Foundation R.O.C.K.S. Respect, Opportunity, Choices, Knowledge, and Strength in support of children and youth living with serious illnesses or disabilities.
- JobTrain – formerly OICW is an educational and training institution that also offers career counseling and job placement services to its graduates. JobTrain helps its clients launch new careers and break out of the community’s existing cycle of poverty, low education levels, homelessness, drugs, crime, and prison.
- MercyCorps – Their mission is to alleviate suffering, poverty, and oppression by helping people build secure, productive, and just communities. As offered on its website, MercyCorps innovates in part by looking at their organization “as a culture of creative solutions designed to confront tough challenges”.
- The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research – Their mission is to accelerate the discovery of a cure for Parkinson’s disease as well as to improve therapies for patients living with the disease today. The Foundation pursues its goals through an aggressively funded, highly targeted research program coupled with active global engagement of scientists, Parkinson’s patients, business leaders, clinical trial participants, donors and volunteers. In addition to funding more than $297 million in research to date, the Foundation has fundamentally altered the trajectory of progress toward a cure. It is the world’s largest private funder of Parkinon’s research.
- The Wounded Warrior Project‘s – The vision is to foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history. Its purpose is to raise awareness and to enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members; to help injured service members aid and assist each other; and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members.
There have been some controversies over a few Hackathon implementations.
Some see them as a way for companies to get free solutions false advertising of the true intent of the intellectual works.
Some view them as elaborate marking and recruiting schemes that takes advantage of developers.
A November 2013 Hackathon run by Salesforce.com, billed as having the largest-ever grand prize at $1 million, was accused of impropriety after it emerged that the winning entrants, a two-person start-up called Upshot, had been developing the technology that they demoed for over a year and that one of the two was a former Salesforce employee.
They ended up apologizing and giving the second place winners the one million dollar award.
But generally they encourage developers to network and showcase their skills, find new friends and even create personal relationships with people of like minds.
A Common Hackathon Structure
There are many was to organize a Hackathon.
The section below is just one way of creating and managing an event.
A Possible Hackathon Format:
1: Finalize a date – Be sure to publish well ahead of time so participants can plan
2: Decide a place – Secure a location before the concept is floated about so potential participants can assess the logistics.
3: Fix the time – Usually Hackathons go over night. The event can begin on Saturday morning, continue till evening and conclude the day with a happy hour networking get together. The coding resumes on Sunday at 8:00 AM and runs until 12:00 PM. The demonstration of the results and voting for best product concludes the event as prizes are awarded.
4: The Hackathon Items – Hackathon Developers who plan to participate in the Hackathon need to complete an “Ideas Sheet”. This document submits the product or solution idea, an implementation method, the technology stack and the team resources needed etc., by a designated date.
5: Volunteering – Hackathon Developers who would like to volunteer should let the organizers know by a designated date so that the Hackathon teams can approach them.
6: On the Hackathon Day – First thing in the morning, the Hackathon teams gets about 10 minutes each to pitch and present their ideas to other members.
7: Logistics – Breakfast, lunch and snacks should be provided by the Sponsors on Saturday and Sunday along with the Networking get together later on the first day
8: An In-house Event – Visits by senior leadership to appreciate the efforts and support the effort should be encouraged.
9: Dress Code – Printed text t-shirts and other event centric items should be available for all the attendees. These items act as marketing material after the event has completed
10: Photographs – A designated photographer should be assigned to archive the event for marketing and historical purposed. Pictures and videos should be taken throughout the day to share later.
11: Saturday Evening – On Saturday evening, Hackathon team members should gather at a place for food and drinks with socializing activities rounding out the day.
12: Sunday morning – On Sunday morning at 8:00 AM coding resumes and is time boxed to be completed by noon.
13: Event Memento – Everybody who attended should get a small appreciation gift as a memento of the event
14: The Demo – Have a “Lunch & Demo” of the results from each team. While teams are demoing, take videos/photos of the presentations of the deliverables.
15: Result Voting – Create a voting Website and have it time boxed, say for one week. Announce the winners where the media is published
16: The Media Publication – Publish the videos/pitch presentations/demos to Web site with the winners as soon as possible
On the eve of Facebook’s IPO, the entire company participated in a massive overnight Hackathon.
This was an example of a Hackathon with a mission to keep its collective heads down and focused on making the product the best it could be.
Products like “Photos” came together during such Hackathons, which is proof that when a company has a mentality to tinker and think outside of the box, great things can happen.
Wisdom Pearl # 119 – The Secret for Good Luck
Luck is When Preparation
… Meets Opportunity
…… Create Your Own Luck!