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What is the purpose of a hackathon?


Hackathons are not single-purpose events, but rather multifaceted opportunities for both the host organization(s) and participants to achieve a diverse set of objectives. 

Some of the most common applications for the host(s) include; discovering business solutions, accelerated product/service launch, staff training and engagement, canvassing for new talent, and improved developer relations.

What happens during a hackathon?


A hackathon is a versatile competition that brings together creative thinkers to solve various problems in a predetermined (typically short) amount of time. There is a wide variety of hackathon event structures but the typical framework is as follows;

  • 1. The event challenges, objectives, rules, parameters and timelines are clearly defined by the host organization(s)
  • 2. Members from ideal/target demographics are invited and encouraged to participate
  • 3. Participants form teams of 4-6 people
  • 4. Teams work to find creative solutions to the challenge and build a prototype of their concept
  • 5. Once complete teams demonstrate their product to a panel of expert judges
  • 6. Winners are announced and prizes awarded, the organizer announces the winning team

Why is it called a hackathon?


The term “hackathon” is an amalgamation (more formally known as a portmanteau) of the words  “hacker” and “marathon”.

A “hacker” generally refers to computer programmers, designers, innovators, and other domain experts. The marathon component is derived from the short time frame in which most hackathons are structured. Challenges typically push participants to work for extended hours without sleep in order to complete their prototype.

The term "hackathon" was first coined in Calgary, Canada, on June 4, 1999 for the OpenBSD Hackathon.

Check out our article "What is a Hackathon?".

How long is a hackathon?


Typically hackathons run for 24-48 hours depending on the expected outcome, however some extend beyond this typical frame if more extensive prototyping is needed.

How do I prepare for my first hackathon?

  • 1. Study and explore previous hackathons by the host organization and winning solutions. These insights will help you to anticipate the types of challenges you’ll face

  • 2. Determine where to find the resources you will need during the hackathon

  • 3. Learn how to effectively work in teams, by attributing the right task to the individual with the correct skillset

  • 4. Explore and research the host organization’s industry

Are hackathons worth it?


Hackathons offer added value to both organizers and attendees. They are a great option when looking to find and assess business solutions, work with startups, train your staff, build a talent pool or launch a new product/service. As an attendee it’s a chance to network with others in similar fields, bring your ideas to life, learn new skills, or push outside your comfort zone and improve your skills.

Who can take part in hackathons?


Each hackathon is unique and may or may not have specific prerequisites. Some events are open to anyone interested, while others may be specific to students, those with particular certifications or credentials, for example. It’s best to explore the guidelines before registering.