A hackathon is a competition during which various specialists from different areas of software development jointly solve a task assigned within a predetermined time-frame (from several hours to several days or months). The term "hackathon" was first used quite recently, in 1999 by two independent companies OpenBSD and Sun Microsystems.
The word itself comes from the English words "hack" and "marathon" - so the literal translation would be "a marathon for hackers". Since the mid-2000s, hackathons have become more common and are seen by companies and investors as a way to quickly develop new software technologies or business cases and solutions.
How do hackathons work?
A company that is looking for a solution to its business problem either conducts a hackathon on its own or resorts to the help of hackathon operators. One way or another, it is paramount to define the problem or tasks that need to be solved. Then the format is determined: online or offline, the advantages and disadvantages of which will require a separate article.
Then, the preparation stage begins. It includes the choice of the venue, format, announcement of the hackathon (otherwise, no one will know about it), defining tasks, involvement of mentors and experts, communication with relevant information partners, the attraction of participants and their registration, assistance with the formation of teams(a hackathon is a team event).
If a participant thinks that he can cope on his own, they will not be disqualified, as long as this does not contradict the rules of conduct. Before, during, and after, a lot of work is carried out by the participants of the hackathon, which can develop into long-term relationships, sometimes even into friendship. Some participants might even participate in your hackathons regularly.
What are the benefits of holding a hackathon?
Let's consider this question from all sides. For a business, they provide ready-made solutions and teams that can implement them for a company or business. It is an opportunity to get dozens of ready-made solutions instead of just one or two for the same price.
It is an opportunity to hire the specialist or team that you have dreamed of for so long, but could not find. It is an opportunity to find new partners and discover new talents you never knew you had. And this is only the beginning.
For hackathon participants, the opportunities are also unlimited. To begin with, age, gender, country, and education are not important - participation is open for everyone because the result is what matters. It is an opportunity to improve your hard and soft skills in a company of like-minded people, find a job or investor for your prototype or finished product, as well as learn new things.
What types of hackathons are there?
Hackathons are not only for tech-savvy persons. They require collaboration between techies, designers, and businessmen. Let's discuss the main types of competition.
1. Coding Competition
"Hackathon". This word, a portmanteau of "hack" and "marathon", immediately evokes an association with an intensive coding competition. Now, with technology enhancement, many coding contests are held online, where there are no limits and contestants can participate from anywhere and at any time they like. In terms of duration, an online competition may last from 1 to 6 months and may include several rounds of submission. An offline hackathon can only be 1 to 7 days long and may have a selection process for participants before the main hack day. Besides offline and online, a combination of both is also possible. A famous example is the Google Code Jam.
Usually, the goal here is to find the most efficiently written program which can give the most accurate result. The competition is judged by very clear criteria which could be a log loss function or a very complex logic defined by the organizer. No matter what methodology you use, simple or advanced, as long as your algorithm can score the highest, you will beat other competitors.
A datathon is a subset of coding competitions, which also have online and offline versions. This kind of competition has one focus only - Data. Essentially, these are hackathons that provide datasets and participants are required to develop algorithms based on the data. One of the best examples is a Kaggle competition. This platform not only hosts datathons, but is also a great resource for open datasets and opportunities to learn from others. Many participants share their notebooks on the site, so anyone can view and analyze their code. If you are a beginner in the data science field, visit Kaggle and explore your topics of interest.
The hackathons themselves. This type of competition requires a presentation and prototype demonstration, thus, besides tech people, marketing experts and UI/UX designers are involved. To elaborate, marketing is needed to draft a business plan and think through the economic side of things. The designer is in charge of the user experience and making the prototype appealing enough to draw the audience's attention. Last but not least, the techie, who is likely either a programmer or data scientist, depending on the task (sometimes a task requires both) will be the core person to make a functional prototype to illustrate the technical feasibility of the solution.
4. Business Case Competition
Business Case competitions also occasionally call themselves "hackathons". This is usually because the organizer wants to include more technological aspects. Thus, in this type of competition, participants will need to explain the technologies they used in the solution design, but not necessarily make a prototype embedded with the mentioned techniques. If you are a business person and don't know how to do the modeling, you may like this kind of competition. Participants usually need to submit a proposal or presentation deck to illustrate their solution before presentation day. If you see this condition in the rules, most likely it is a business case competition.
We hope that this information will help you decide which kind of competition suits you best. We are always happy to help with its organization!