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Mar 28, 2023 • 2 min read

What is a hackathon? Concept and how it works

Don’t know what a hackathon is? Simply put, it is a collaborative event where participants come together to work together on software and technology projects. These events usually last several days and are attended by programmers, designers and other technical professionals. But since these few words are not enough to explain to what extent this type of event can be useful in a company, we will use some more. Specifically, this full article.



What is a hackathon: main objective

The term “hackathon” is a combination of the words “hack” (derived from hacker in the sense of  expert programmer) and “marathon” (in the sense of a long and intense race). The first hackathon was held  in 1999 in Calgary, Canada, and was organized by theOpenBSD technology company. Since then, hackathons have become increasingly popular in the tech industry and  have expanded into other fields such as medicine and education. The idea behind hackathons is to bring together a group of people with different skills and backgrounds to work together on a project over a set period of time, usually a weekend or a full day. Although they can last full days.


The main objective of a hackathon is to develop a working prototype of a product or service in a limited period of time. Participants work in teams to create innovative solutions and, during the event, creativity and experimentation are encouraged.



(01) How do these types of events work in general areas?

  • During a hackathon, specific problems or challenges are presented to participants, who must work as a team to find creative solutions.
  • Projects can range from mobile apps to artificial intelligence software, hardware and other types of technology.
  • Participants usually work through out the event, with little rest, to create functional prototypes. In fact the objective is to present these prototypes, at the end of the event before a panel of judges or experts of the sector.
  • In addition to the competition, hackathons are also an opportunity to network, learn new skills and collaborate with other professionals in the sector.



Benefits of internal hackatones

If you think about the definition we have given to explain what a hackathon is (remember, a collaborative event in which participants meet to work together on software and technology projects), it will be easy to deduce what are the benefits that organizing one of them can have for your company. Among others, there are the following:


  • Encourage innovation: By allowing employees to work together on innovative and creative projects, innovation is encouraged in the company.
  • Collaboration Mobility: Internal hackathons promote collaboration between employees in different departments, which can improve communication and overall teamwork.
  • Generate new ideas: The diversity of skills and perspectives in an internal hackathon can lead to the generation of new and fresh ideas to improve the company’s products or services.
  • Promotes learning: Employees can learn new skills and techniques during an internal hackathon, which can help improve their performance at work.
  • Increase motivation: Participating in an internal hackathon can be exciting and motivating for employees, which can increase their commitment and loyalty to the company.

Facebook hosted its first hackathon in 2007. During the event, employees worked on creating new features for the platform. Since then, Facebook has regularly hosted hackathons to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship among its employees.


Another example is PayPal, which hosted an internal hackathon in 2013 to look for new ways to integrate mobile payment into its app. As a result of the event, the PayPal team was able to identify and develop new features that improved the user experience and increased mobile payment adoption. Among them, the “Donate now” app.



How to organize a hackathon?

If you’ve just learned what a hackathon is, you may want to enlist the help of a professional team, like Ideafoster. In any case, these are the steps you must follow to organize an event of these characteristics:


(01) Define the objective:

It is important to define the objective of the hackathon and the problem you are trying to solve before you start organizing it. This will help guide the event and ensure that participants are aligned on objectives.


(02) Select the team:

A team responsible for organizing and coordinating the event should be selected, which may include staff from human resources, marketing, technology and other departments.


(03) Choose the format:

There are different hackathon formats: internal, open to the public or online, among others. The choice will depend on the objective of the event and the resources available.


(04) Determine the scope and duration:

It is essential to establish the duration of the event and the scope of the projects that can be presented. This can range from a few hours to several days.


(05) Identify participants:

It is crucial to identify theright participants. These can be company employees, subject matter experts, or third-party developers. It is also important to consider diversity of gender, age and experience.


(06) Provide resources:

Ensure that participants have accessto the necessary tools and resources, such as software, hardware, a comfortable workspace, and food and drink, among others.


(07) Ensure mentoring and support:

Participants may need mentoring and support during the event, so it is important to connect with mentors and subject matter experts who can provide guidance.


(08) Establish a jury:

A jury must be established to evaluate the submitted projects and select the winners. The jury must be an expert to properly assess. It canbe internal or external.


(09) Reward winners:

It’s always a good idea to provide an incentive for participants, such as cash prizes, access to resources, or even promotion opportunities within the company. After all, although we definewhat a hackathon is in terms of dynamism, it involves long working hours.



Hosting an internal hackathon can provide numerous benefits to your company, from promoting innovation and collaboration to generating neweas and learning new skills. However, organizing such an event is challenging and requires careful planning and adequate resources. In this sense, having the help of professionals like Ideafoster can be an excellent option to guarantee the success of the event.  Contact us!

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