Hackathons: No Sleep, Lots Of Code

Jack Simpson

Head of Marketing and Communications

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With Hack Manchester arriving in the city in October this year and our Genius Day on the 18th May, I thought I’d do a little research in to what actually happens at a hackathon and the history behind it.

A hackathon is an event where computer programmers come together to collaborate on a software related project. They typically last between a day and a week, with the people involved usually working through the night to complete their idea (or bringing a sleeping bag into the office to take a well-earned break!) It’s a great way to get together in a fun environment, thinking up new ideas. The aim is to create new usable software or improve existing software.

The term seems to have been created by both the developers of OpenBSD and the marketing team of Sun in 1999. From then on the hackathon has gathered momentum and became more widespread; viewed by companies as quick and effective way to develop new software technologies, and to find new areas for innovation and funding.

Facebook in particular loves hackathons, staging one every 6-8 weeks where employees can work in teams with people they may not normally encounter on a daily basis. Through these events many well-known Facebook features have been thought up; including an early version of Timeline. They can be for profit or pleasure so I’m sure there have been plenty of entertaining options too!

Google recently held its first TV hackathon last week. 370+ staff members from both sides of the Atlantic took part and created apps in the codefest for TV. The 60 teams each faced the challenge of developing applications for a TV platform rather than a phone or tablet.

Hackathons are evolving and are now being used as a format for social innovation. Like-minded people are meeting up to produce problem solving ideas to help society. Code for America hosts events where people get together to help City Government leaders. From the events, an app has been developed for parents to track their children’s school buses after heavy snowstorms hit Boston last year. The London Green Hackathon was held in February, where developers and sustainability experts met to help out our planet with some inventive coding. ‘One Tonne’ was a winner, in which users could select and share what they would like to have in their one tonne carbon footprint lifestyle.

Hackathons give people the opportunity to work in a team and be innovative. With more and more hackathon events taking place in the UK, each with a different purpose, it’s really easy to get involved. So when our Genius Day comes round in 2 weeks’ time, our Webbies will be jumping at the chance to hash out ideas they’re passionate about and maybe produce some truly amazing software!