Hackathons simplified

September 25, 2019
10 mins

When some people hear the word “hackathon,” a wave of intimidation spills over them.

Well, let me help you pitch the idea. A hackathon, also known as a codefest, is typically a day-long coding competition where a bunch of software developers, computer programmers, designers, and others join hands to improve upon or build a new software program.

Hackathons maybe theme-based. However, the majority of hackathons gives developers and programmers free rein to be creative and build something awesome.

One can create a web app, a website, chrome extension, it’s an open environment!

Stating an exciting fact here—many popular features of Facebook such as the like button, Facebook timeline, chat, and video were all conceived during hackathon projects.

 

A hackathon is a place where you find diversified minds and ideas, all under one roof. You will eventually end up honing your existing skills and acquiring new ones in the process.

Acquire industry-specific job skills

Creating something from nothing is difficult. In fact, it may be one of the most challenging tasks. A hackathon lets one acquire industry-specific job skills.

If you are new to programming, you will learn how to build a project from scratch, buff out the glitches, and present it to a panel of experts.

On the other hand, if you are already a coding professional, you have an opportunity to enhance your skills.

All-in-all, a hackathon is a win-win situation. It prepares you for working in a fast-paced, industry-driven environment, and gives professional experience in tackling coding challenges.

Improve problem-solving skills

Want to stretch your problem-solving skills to the limit? Attend a hackathon! To get the job done, you will need to learn how to focus on what is important.

And no matter however pre-defined your ideas are before you attend, you will eventually learn to be flexible and adaptable in your approach.

Also, you will get the opportunity to literally drill down issues and understand them to their very core.

Learn teamwork

The importance of teamwork cannot be overstated. It is very, very important, especially in such events.

Hackathons encourage you to work with people that you do not often work with, which eventually leads to wonderful ideas.

You learn to partition tasks, share a codebase, and get along the process through good and bad as a team.

Also, “pair programming” is a common practice at hackathons. It involves finding someone of similar skill sets, and then taking turns building and advising on the project.

It offers considerable learning potential and teaches effective collaboration.

Work under pressure

Hackathons aim at developing something awesome within a limited time frame, infusing work pressure among participants and testing them beyond their limits.

You will definitely learn to complete tasks faster than what you’re generally used to.

Transform concepts into reality

The core concept of most hackathons is the ability to turn concepts into deliverable actions or a working prototype. Hackathons are a great way to involve and understand every stage—from design to deployment—of a product.

The gap between ideation and execution is huge. For instance, when Uber brought the idea of helping customers find a ride via connectivity, many people said, “I had that same idea.”

Still, Uber made it happen in the best possible way. Similarly, there are several ideas that people think of, and a hackathon lets one execute ideas and create something mind-boggling!

If you want to participate in a hackathon, you just need to know the genre, form a team (either at the event or with people you know), and hack away at a project!

Hackathons are a whirlwind! If you come in with a strategy, they can be a useful format for making significant progress in a short amount of time.

If you are new to hackathons, knowing where to begin with may be daunting.

Traditionally, hackathons come from identifying a problem and then considering different ways to solve it.

For instance, how can a new tool or app make life easier? To help you get there, here is a list of hackathons that HackerEarth has conducted to let you gain some insights.

How can hackathons help you?

Hackathons for product and API adoption

Studies show that hackathons seem to be the most effective method to acquire and engage developer talent for open APIs.

Hackathons give you the opportunity to put your product(API) in the hands of passionate developers and get them to use it. They give you valuable feedback on how your product can be improved.

Several companies have used hackathon to drive API adoption. Here are a few –

Amazon Alexa: Building voice-first experiences through the Alexa skills hackathon

Alexa, the voice service behind Amazon Echo, is changing how a consumer interacts with technology. With Alexa being able to pick up multiple roles—anything from a concierge or a sous chef to a fitness coach or a DJ — every time a new skill is added, the Alexa Skills hackathon was aimed at building even more skills for Alexa to make it smarter.

The goal of the hackathon was to educate developers about Alexa. Amazon wanted to get them to experience building skills for Alexa for the first time.

IBM: Using Bluemix to develop apps on the Bluemix platform

IBM Bluemix is a cloud platform as a service (PaaS) developed by IBM. It supports several programming languages and services as well as integrated DevOps to build, run, deploy, and manage applications in the cloud.

The IBM Bluemix hackathon was a product building innovation campaign where participants could build web and mobile apps with Watson on IBM Bluemix.

Hackathons for branding

An employer branding hackathon is a highly targeted branding activity. It allows a company to let potential employees know what the company stands for, the challenging projects it works on, and communicates its values to them.

By conducting a targeted hackathon, you will be able to let the developer community know about your company and the technology stack you use. It also allows companies to build a talent pipeline. Here’s how HP Enterprise leveraged hackathons for employer branding-

HP Enterprise: When innovation acted as a brand driver

HPE is a brand synonymous with innovation. With over 80 years of world-class technology innovation and the famous “HP Way” of transforming great ideas into successful tech products, the company partnered with HackerEarth for its employer branding activities.

The HPE Thinkathon was a hackathon specifically for college students. With coding gaining more attention with each passing day, HP aimed to cultivate a culture of coding among students.

Hackathons for hiring

Hackathons are changing the way a traditional hiring process works. Hiring that involved multiple rounds of interviews in the past are quickly being replaced by hiring hackathons. Here’s how Accenture used a hackathon to hire better talent.

Accenture—Hiring coding enthusiasts through the Hack Diva challenge

The Accenture Hack Diva challenge was a women-centric programming challenge targeted at women students interested in technology to showcase their problem-solving skills and compete with their peers across the country.

The event aimed at bringing together some of the brightest engineering students and celebrating women who are passionate about technology.

Internal hackathons

Internal hackathons act as a playground for exploring possibilities. Accelerate innovation by bringing all the business stakeholders on a single platform to ideate, collaborate, build, and implement solutions to real-world challenges.

Benefits –

  • Collaborative innovation — Internal hackathons help foster collaboration across geographies
  • Accelerate customer innovation — Faster go to market for customer requirements
  • Drive engagement — A fun activity for your entire company
  • Adapt to disruption and stay ahead of competition

Hackathons to foster collaboration and boost employee engagement

The use of employee hackathons to solve organizational problems is on the rise. This fun event helps bring together the best brains from across your organization to solve pressing business challenges while having a good time.

Global talent advisers perfectly sum up what happens during a hackathon of this kind, “Employees who have participated in a hackathon love it because it is a highly engaging activity. They work with colleagues from other departments to brainstorm and design working prototypes. Employees feel that they are part of the solution. They have a sense of pride that they are contributing to the success of the company.”

Hackathons to solve customer challenges

Hackathons can be catalysts for organizations looking to accelerate innovation. You could use a hackathon to develop innovative yet practical solutions to support the customer experience.

The best part is you get a pipeline of hacks which can provide the highest value to customers in the shortest amount of time and you can work on accommodating them in your product road maps.

Hackathons to help you speed up product launches

Hackathons create an environment that creates an internal drive among your team to work together on new product features or improvements.

The best part is that since the entire team works towards this within a stipulated period of time, you have multiple solutions many of which are market-ready and can be directly implementable. This means you can easily accommodate them in your product road maps and releases.

Hackathons to create a culture of innovation

Innovation is critical to business success now more than ever. It is imperative for business leaders and entrepreneurs to make innovation their constant business priority.

Incorporating innovation into your company’s culture will help you create an environment that empowers.

Technology, University, Government, and Social hackathons

One of the best things you get out of conducting a hackathon is the outcome. A hackathon is a great tool especially if you are looking for swift market-ready solutions.

And these solutions are applicable across a wide range of sectors—from technology hackathons to government and social hackathons and even university hackathons.

Technology hackathons

Hackathons are a great way of using cutting edge technologies to solve some pressing business challenges.

Some commonly used technologies include Machine Learning, Blockchain, IoT, AR/VR, etc and these have been used to solve problems on customer data management, identity management, and asset trading via hackathons.

Machine Learning hackathons

Organizations such as Unilever, Societe Generale, Future Group, and many others have leveraged the power of Machine Learning to build better businesses.

Hindustan Unilever Ltd: Crowdsourcing Machine Learning models to understand consumer preferences

Being one of the largest FMCG companies in India, HUL ran a hackathon to understand consumer preferences in small retail stores in neighborhoods by capturing sales data through a point of sales system and leverage it with innovative Machine Learning (ML) and analytical models.

Societe Generale: Building predictive models from banking and financial data

This French banking and financial MNC wanted to put its financial data to better use by leveraging the power of the crowd for data analysis and building predictive models.

Future Group: Crowdsourcing digital solutions to master customer data management

Future Group is one of the largest retailers in India and through the Future Datathon, this organization used Machine Learning to understand customer behavior and buying needs better.

Blockchain hackathons

From traceable supply chains to permanent identity for refugees, blockchain is pioneering transparent and secure business processes.

Blockchain technology provides new infrastructure to build the next innovative applications beyond cryptocurrencies, driving profound, positive changes across businesses, communities, and society.

Many organizations have used blockchain hackathons to build impactful solutions and here are a few examples

Accenture: Leveraging Blockchain for social good

With the industry gearing toward an exciting phase in the evolution of blockchain-based solutions, Accenture has consciously worked toward leveraging ‘Blockchain for good’.

Regarded as one of the top 10 biggest blockchain companies, Accenture’s blockchain developers work at the heart of the blockchain technology landscape, working with multiple alliance partners— DAH, Ripple, R3, Microsoft, EEA, Hyperledger, etc.

University hackathons

Hackathons are important for growth because it allows students to apply creativity, learn technical skills, generate business ideas, work in a team, network with peers and professionals, and win some cool prizes.

Top universities across the world use hackathons to drive creativity and problem-solving capacity among students.

Government hackathons

Governments around the world are leveraging technology for better governance and hackathons are a great way to find solutions which can be readily implemented. A few examples are:

Smart Odisha hackathon — Make in Odisha Conclave 2018

The student community is an integral part of spearheading development projects, owing to its innovative and enthusiastic approach toward a problem.

To harness the talent of student communities, “Smart Odisha Hackathon” was organized by the Skill Development and Technical Education Department, Government of Odisha, in association with the Biju Patnaik University of Technology (BPUT), Odisha. The idea behind this 36-hour long hackathon was to attract talent to identify innovative IT solutions for public service delivery and effective governance.

NITI Aayog—Pune Smart city hackathon

The challenge was to find insights and solutions for smarter ways to develop Pune.

The hackathon addressed important themes such as water management, solid waste management, safety, public health, and digital connectivity.

Bhopal smart city hackathon

This hackathon was organised by the Bhopal Smart City Development Corporation Limited, in partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Participants had to come up with technology solutions in this 48 hour hackathon to make Bhopal smarter.

Social hackathons

Hackathons can help you harness the creative power and skills of thousands of participants to bring you closer to realizing your organization’s social welfare goals.

Create working prototypes of solutions by utilizing developer communities, along with your participants, without having to build a team of your own.

Centro Fox: Creating technology solutions for social problems in less than 48 hours

Centro Fox is a Mexican organization which works toward creating compassionate leaders for a better world.

Founded by Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, the center consciously works toward training quality leaders dedicated to serving their community in Mexico and Latin America.

The talent hackathon at Centro Fox aimed to bring together participants from Mexico to work on solutions for creating a smart city.

Hackocracy: Crowdsourcing to build a better democracy

With the belief that technology-based solutions could streamline processes and revolutionize the lives of millions, well-known NGOs such as the Umang Foundation, Janaagraha, and the Nudge Foundation teamed up with HackerEarth to come up with digital solutions to handle real-world problems through Hackocracy — a hackathon to build a better democracy.

FAQs

Who can attend a hackathon

Hackathons are for everyone. YES! You read that right. Anyone with a knack in computer programming can attend a hackathon. One does not necessarily need to have programming experience. Organizers usually hold workshops throughout the event for people who are new to programming, helping individuals harness new skills and relationships.

 

How to prepare for a hackathon?

You’d like to try a hackathon? Great! We’ve put together a list of 5 things you can do to prep.

Do I need to pay any money to register for a hackathon? 

No. You do not have to pay anything to anyone to register yourself for any Hackathon on HackerEarth.

How do I submit the prototypes/ideas created for the hackathon? 

You have to develop the application on your local system and submit it on HackerEarth in tar/zip file format along with instructions to run the application and source code.

Do we need to have the entire idea fully working? 

The entire idea need not be fully implemented. However, the submission should be functional so that it can be reviewed by the judges.

Do I need to provide a demo for the product I have built? 

If you want, you can submit a small presentation or video that demos your submission. However, it’s not mandatory and only good to have. In case you are one of the winners, you might be invited to demo your application at a physical event, details of which will be shared with sufficient advance notice.

How is the environment? Will the hackathon environment support any language? Will the organization provide any IDE and DB for us to work on ideas? 

You have to develop the entire software application on your local system and submit it on HackerEarth in tar/zip file format along with instructions to run the application and source code.

Who owns my project and IP?

It can vary from hackathon to hackathon. The conditions of participation in a hackathon may include alternative arrangements, such as first-look rights, exclusive rights, or shared IP rights. Also, the finalists and winners are generally given prizes or sums of money – essentially in exchange for their ideas.
In case of an internal hackathon where organizations conduct these events for their employees, all rights are owned by the company. It has the total ownership of inventions made by its employees.
In case of an open or a public hackathon, the ownership rights are often open to dispute. In this case, the inventions are made by an unpaid third party — the hackathon participants. 

But in any case, it’s essential to take a careful look at the conditions of participation. Be sure to double check with the organizer. If you are employed elsewhere, review the hackathon terms to see if your participation causes any conflict of business interest with your current employer.

How to win a hackathon?

It all boils down to 10 simple steps. HackerEarth provides an exhaustive list to help win hackathons. The steps are pretty broad on purpose – you can define them anyway you want.

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About the Author

Ashmita
Ashmita is a Content Editor at HackerEarth. With a knack for writing, she hopes to write something, someday, worth plagiarizing. When she’s not working, you can find her strumming her guitar or binging on Netflix.

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