What if you faced a particularly tricky problem and needed an abundance of innovative ideas, rapid prototyping, an explosion of creativity with real-time feedback—all in a matter of days? Why not host or participate in a hackathon?!
hack*a*thon—an event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming with the intention of producing a 1.0 version of a product.
The experience itself is intensive and grueling. Concepting, architecting, designing, programming, debugging and ultimately presenting the final prototype to an audience—all within a span of 24 to 72 hours. Lots and lots of caffeine, snacks, and even adult beverages are served to help keep the hackers going. In the end, the goal is not to create the most elegant code, but to make a presentable demo that attracts enough interest to warrant further development.
Even though the final product of a hackathon is a mere prototype—one that may never again see the light of day—these popular tech events are beneficial for a number of reasons. An obvious benefit is the unleashing of innovation around a particular theme. A problem is introduced to the participants along with some with parameters to consider. Then the teams are asked to come up with solutions to address the issue. The multitude of wildly creative ideas alone are worth the effort of hosting or attending a hackathon.
For instance, the Merck Social Health Hack, which occurred in February 2014, focused on improving the health and wellness literacy of the community. The participants were asked to use the health data APIs provided and, since the event was taking place during Social Media Week, they were instructed to incorporate ‘social’ features in their applications. This hackathon resulted in at least five promising prototypes that addressed the problem.
Another highly cost-effective reason to host a hackathon is the opportunity for real-time feedback on products. The responses from the panel of judges and other participants leads to fast-track solutions on usability issues, optimum development approaches, and a myriad of other details that go into producing a solid innovative idea. As one investor said, “hackathons force people to whittle down their huge ideas to more manageable MVPs.” (minimum viable product)
Thirdly, hackathons bring networking and collaboration opportunities, and even talented new hires. Potential developers are able to show off their skills and can be discovered, evaluated, and recruited. In addition, hackathons introduce and encourage creative interaction between team members. JUICE’s own developer, Lin-Yu Wen participated in TechCrunch’s Disrupt New York Hackathon in May 2014. She pointed out that because she went alone, she had to talk to strangers to become a part of a team. After introducing their skill sets to each other, they discussed what kind of app they wanted to build and whether it was doable. Their team won second place with their MixTape app.
While hackathons often produce many highly innovative prototypes that are not further developed, the quantity and quality of the ideas, the incredible immediate feedback, and the networking opportunities offer a wealth of value to anyone participating in and/or hosting a hackathon. And the best part is being inspired by the extraordinary creativity that flows freely.