What the hack is a Hackathon?

HackHPI is a classic Hackathon – but what does this mean? Together we will explore some key parts of a Hackathon and go further into detail.

Where does the word Hackathon come from?

The word “hackathon” is a combination of the words “hack” from hacking and “marathon”. Hacking means in this context a type of rapid and exploratory programming and not the actual hacking of a piece of software by exploiting security holes. Marathon references to the length of a Hackathon. Most common is a duration around 24 hours where the participants work constantly on their project without any big breaks. So like a marathon runner, you need a certain level of endurance to complete such a hackathon.

What is the main goal of a Hackathon? 

With knowing now that we do some kind of programming over a specific period – what do these participants aim for in attending a hackathon?

Most of the hackathons have the goal to create a piece of soft- or hardware that can be shown in the end. So there is a functioning prototype of the idea the team made before starting.

Besides that, there are some more goals a hackathon and the participants can aim at. Attending a hackathon brings you together with a lot of like-minded persons. It’s the perfect possibility to get to know more people – regarding the size of the hackathon even the same area. Also is a hackathon a perfect opportunity to learn new technologies and extend your knowledge about developing a piece of software in a short time.

The sponsor and partners of a hackathon may have the goal to get new inspirations for a problem they have. Most of the challenges they provide have some real-world touch and they are more than happy for getting new ideas. Besides that, a company is also always looking for good and motivated people, so they may be also doing this for recruiting reasons.

What is the structure of a Hackathon?

So we now know some of the reasons a hackathon even exists. But how does a Hackathon exactly looks like?

Typically, a hackathon starts with a presentation about the event itself and the topic of the hackathon. For HackHPI 2020 this would be “about://mobility”. Also, the partners and sponsors can shortly present their challenge for the hackathon. This can be a short problem description and a possible wish for what the solution to this problem should do. Some hackathons allow people to do their own projects, some say that teams must choose a challenge to work on.