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Using a hackathon to promote innovation in a tech company
Written by Rowan Govender
4 March 2013

Microsoft. Google. Apple. These are tech companies that used innovation to rise to the top. How can you encourage that kind of innovation in your tech company? Organise a mini hackathon!

What is a hackathon?

A hackathon (or hack marathon) is an event where tech companies bring together all the various people involved in software development, such as programmers, managers, or graphic designers, to create a software application. This marathon can take anywhere between a few hours, or a few days, depending on the event. The first event that was officially labelled “the Hackathon” was an event that took place on June 15th in 1999 as part of the JavaOne conference. Another event took place a few days earlier on June 4th in regards to an OpenBSD cryptographic event.

Hackathons can cover a variety of different themes, such as platform or API development, or can even be aimed at a specific cause or purpose.

Why host a hackathon?

A hackathon gives everyone whose part of the development a chance to work on something in any way they see fit, outside of the limits and regulations that are usually part of corporate culture. Whether you're a small startup or part of a big corporation, hackathons are great for generating and working on new ideas.

How to host a hackathon?

Entrepreur.com  offers the following tips from IMUZIK's Cessna and Hackatopia.com's Morano in order to get your hackathon off the ground:

  • Designate one person to manage your hackathon. Give them a budget for food and prizes and to promote the event both within the company and to local programmers and coders.
  • Decide early on if your hackathon will be simple or highly elaborate. Simple can be a bunch of volunteers sitting around coding all weekend, or it can be elaborate -- with sponsors, prizes, publicity, judges and even participants divided up into organized teams competing for prizes.
  • Have a clear message of what you want to accomplish and relay that message to your employees and outside programmers and designers right from beginning of the publicity portion of the event.
  • Plan breaks throughout. Have tons of pizza, junk food and soft drinks on hand.
  • Make sure all participants sign a contract during the registration period that covers all aspects of ownership of the intellectual property created during the event.

Popular hackathon events

Disrupt is a popular technology conference that takes place in the United States. One of the Disrupt events is a hackathon that takes place during the conference. The first hackathon event that was hosted in New York in 2011 had 300 developers involved, and the 2012 NYC Disrupt hackathon was looking to be even bigger.

Microsoft recently hosted the Wowzapp global hackathon which took place in over 100 cities. This hackathon was a massive success in which over 17 000 professional and student developers took part. The purpose of these hackathons was to bring together anyone who was interested in developing for Microsoft's new platforms.


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