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Sep 26, 2023 • 2 min read

What is a hackathon? Concept and how it works

Hackathon is a term that continues to grow in popularity. In a world where change is increasingly rapid and competitiveness is higher, it is necessary that solutions to different problems are also developed at the same speed. This is the goal of these peculiar events. We’ll tell you what they are, their applications and how they work.



What is a hackathon?


A hackathon is an intensive, collaborative event where several people, with different profiles and skills, come together to address and solve specific problems. Areas of work can include multiple experts, but also programmers and designers. Between all of them, we will try to create innovative solutions in a short space of time.


The word hackathon comes from the combination of “hack,” which means to program in an ingenious way, and “marathon,” which is a prolonged, intensive activity. During the hackathon, participants work in teams to develop projects, applications, or prototypes in a limited amount of time, usually ranging from a few hours to several days.


Although they are the most common, these events are not limited to the technological field. Today, hackathons have evolved to encompass various fields, including medicine, education, and social problem solving. In addition to fostering creativity and innovation, hackathons promote collaboration, knowledge sharing, and the creation of practical and effective solutions to the problems they seek to address.



Origin of hackathons


Hackathons have their roots in hacker culture and computer programming. This culture, far from its negative connotation about venturing into other people’s systems to steal information, refers to the ability to find innovative and efficient solutions to different problems.


The first documented hackathon took place in 1999, organized by OpenBSD, an open-source operating system. However, the concept became more widely popular in the 2000s, especially in Silicon Valley, where tech companies began hosting these events to encourage creativity and collaboration among developers. Facebook and Yahoo! pioneered this practice.


Over time, hackathons transcended the technological field and have been expanding to other changes due to their ability to find solutions in a short time. This evolution and application in different sectors highlight the versatility of hackathons as a tool for innovation.



How do these events work in practice?


Organizing a hackathon usually starts with a clear definition of the challenge or central theme that participants will address. This goal can come from various areas, from technological problems, development of a mobile application or social or environmental challenges, as they are perfectly adaptable to any discipline.


Once the challenge is established, participants form multidisciplinary teams, which include the professional profiles we mentioned. That is, programmers, designers, business experts, and other specialists in different fields. The goal is for the skills that are incorporated to be complementary, so that comprehensive solutions can be generated.


During the event, resources such as access to cloud platforms, development tools, hardware  are provided, but there is also the assistance of mentors and experts in the field, as we will see later. These resources help teams overcome all the technical hurdles that may arise as they generate ideas and optimize their projects in a limited amount of time.


Temporality is the key feature of hackathons. This time constraint drives creativity and quick decision-making. In other words, it becomes an intensive, marathon activity, as its name suggests.


Once the agreed-upon time frame is over, it’s time for the final submission. In this phase, the team showcases and explains their project to the public or to a panel of judges. The evaluation is based on the innovation, functionality, and feasibility of the proposed solution. While some hackathons offer prizes, the main value lies in shared experience, hands-on learning, and creating tangible solutions in a very short timeframe.



Applications in different sectors


As we have indicated, hackathons have transcended…….



Evolution and future trends of hackathons


As hackathons continue to evolve, and technology in general as well, new future horizons are emerging with respect to their applications and operation. In fact, the involvement of technology in these events could take collective creativity to another level.


To this end, cutting-edge tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) would be incorporated. With both, problem-solving would be diversified in terms of solutions. For example, participants could take advantage of advanced algorithms to analyze data more efficiently or integrate immersive experiences that help visualize the solutions that are being proposed.


This convergence between human creativity and technological capabilities could lead to breakthrough discoveries in various fields, such as medicine. In addition, the possibility of remote participation facilitates the inclusion of talent from anywhere in the world, with the consequent diversity of perspectives and approaches.


On the other hand, current issues and issues, such as environmental issues or social responsibility, could become central elements in the planning of future hackathons.


Since the solutions proposed by humanity do not seem to be fully prospering for various reasons, the involvement of these technologies would enhance the creation of new solutions that are technically and ethically effective. With these approaches, the mentality of the participants themselves would also be modified, which in turn would lead to new approaches with a more ethical and sustainable basis.




The future of hackathons looks interesting, with the fusion between the human mind and the most advanced technological tools. In addition to redefining how we approach challenges, it also redefines how we collaborate to find pioneering and sustainable solutions for a world that is constantly changing.

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