Why go to a hackathon?

Hackathons and hack events are having a bit of a moment right now with lots on and lots of people discussing them. One of the problems in the discussion stems from the fact that there are many different reasons people go to hackathons.

  • Education – learning some new technical skill by doing something.
  • Education in a new field by learning from others there.
  • Meeting people in general. Maybe just chatting or working with them on a team.
  • Trying a new idea out over an event.
  • Starting a new company or social enterprise over the event.
  • Wanting to use your skills to help a good cause like a charity.
  • Building on an existing project (probably an Open Source one) and recruiting people to it at the same time.
  • Winning the prize.
  • Showing off what you can do to win something later. Sometimes this may be direct; the organiser of the hackathon will commission some of the best entries or offer a prize but sometimes someone else at the hackathon will like what you do and approach you about something else later (a type of networking, basically).

Also, organisers have their own reasons. They may want to encourage something like education or they may want the event to produce some software or ideas they or others can use.

So why is this a problem? Because people often fail to appreciate these different reasons and in particular they don’t appreciate there is a different style of hack event for each of them.

Compare a hack event where organisers want to encourage a finished project to emerge to one where the organisers want to encourage learning. The former will usually offer a really sweet prize (maybe an immediate thing like some geek toys or a delayed thing like a commission) whilst the later probably don’t want to offer any judged prizes.

People have to understand this. In particular if they have a bad experience at one hack event because their aims don’t match others, they shouldn’t assume all hackdays are the same and slag them all off. Sadly, I’ve seen this pattern in many blog posts.

Let’s not let a few bad hackday experiences ruin the concept for everyone!

More posts on Hackathons to come!

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