What do you think a large group of hi-tech software developers, application programmers and product managers will do together? You're right; they will either indulge in a never-ending project meeting or work on making a really innovative, creative and out-of-the-box product.
Seventeen-years-ago, 10 software developers came together in Calgary, Canada, to find a way to avoid legal complications while importing cryptographic software from United States. This is how the term 'hackathon' originated, and since then, such events are being conducted globally for software advancement and innovation.
Last week, I was at a college for campus hiring where a bunch of enthusiastic engineers were participating in a hackathon, brainstorming on developing a secure mobile application that will give students access to the examination room even if they forget their physical ID cards. I had the opportunity to witness two days of sheer learning, debating, brain-racking and collective innovation, and that’s when I learned what really happens at a hackathon.
Hackathons are not always exclusively for software developers--people from business, marketing and management and almost anyone can join for collaborative problem-solving. When you register for a hackathon, you get an idea of theme of the event. All you have to do is walk in with relevant ideas, work, debate, debug with others and recreate your piece, and then you are given a chance to present your work to everyone at the event. Usually, the best ideas are picked, awarded and implemented.
Hackathons can have some real interesting ideas behind them, such as:
Healthcare hackathon: Hackathons are conducted to bring together information technology (IT) and healthcare professionals, to break down barriers and work towards healthcare innovation. The participants collaborate to design apps, devices and solutions for medical care.
Act of kindness hackathon: Developers and management experts work together with charities, community groups and social enterprises on concerns like promotion, fund management, sponsorships etc. The real idea is to take the concept and make it usable and beneficial to people.
Traffic hackathon: Last year, two tech firms competed at a 48-hour-long hackathon, to solve Toronto’s traffic problem. They brought up new ideas to resolve the problem and discuss things like the cause of traffic jams, and how the city can measure if its policy changes are effective.
HR hackathons: Employers and HR pros come together to solve hiring and retention problems. They also brainstorm on ways to reduce attrition, and work out ways to engage remote and contract employees.
Agriculture hackathon: These work towards solving problems in agriculture, by getting experts, consumers, government and producers together.
All-women hackathon: 99dresses, a startup that promoted exchange of fashion items among users, originated in a similar all-women hackathon. The women worked on ideas to stay trendy without breaking their budgets.
Hackathons are similar to open forums where you have the freedom to present your ideas. These are great learning experiences too, as you get a chance to work with subject experts and get first-hand knowledge. You perform within deadlines while celebrating the freedom to innovate. Some organisations also host in-house hackathons to give employees an opportunity to step outside their job routines and experiment in an open-work environment. Thinking out of the box brings greater value to the worktable.