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What actually happens at a Hackathon?

Hackathons are popping up everywhere. This reminds me of when we started hacking Hackathons Australia: it was made apparent that it was fragmented community - everyone was doing their own thing and there was no unity to advance the hackathon communities as a collection.The challenge we are facing, and my message to hackathon organisers right now is: remember the purpose of hackathons.  

According to Wikipedia (yes, they can be useful!), The word "hackathon" is a combination of the words "hack" and "marathon", where "hack" is used in the sense of exploratory programming, not its alternate meaning as a reference to computer crime. ‘Exploratory programming’ are the two words which we need to highlight. We are experimenting and exploring ways to advance the use of technology. Let us not forget this.

Hackathons are also an educational process. I remember the very first hackathon I went to, it was the most intense learning curve ever! We learnt about research, customer validation, creating an MVP (Minimal Viable Product), and selling. I learnt what it was like to be a Hustler (business lead), how a Hipster (design lead) helped with design-thinking, and what a Hacker (tech lead) needed to understand to create a working prototype. Remember: ‘hackers’ or participants, are here to network, learn and grow - not to be used as slave labour.

I acknowledge that every hackathon is different, each unique with its own purpose, environments and people. However, to ensure that the hacking community is led in a beneficial direction I have outlined the key fundamentals for a meaningful and successful which I believe every hackathon should possess:

1. Venue and Catering

The two most important things when holding any event. You want a space close to public transport or you provide transport. The facility must be equipped for the level of tech requirements such as power outlets, free wifi, and provide healthy food to nourish the mind, body and souls.

2. Challenge

I love the concept of co-creation: working with people to create prototypes, programs and solutions that work for them. At the start of your hackathon, set a challenge which is a key problem to a community.

3. Pitches

The easiest way to learn to pitch is using the Gaddie elevator pitch. It is a simple 3 sentence structure which anyone can do:

You know how… there is no one space where I can educate myself on how to organise a hackathon in a visual manner

What we do is…  provide educational resources so that people feel empowered to run their very own hackathon

In fact… online Hackathons are now the craze and everyone is getting on board!

4. Mix and Match

The best thing about hackathons is its ability to throw a bunch of people from different backgrounds with diverse skillsets together to make magic happen. Give people enough time to talk with each other so teams form naturally. Foster an environment that welcomes interaction between strangers so that they're able to build teams quickly and confidently.

5. Startup Education

Conduct short activities, invite engaging speakers and knowledgeable mentors to educate the participants. We need to advance the startup community is by educating the next generation who will be leading us. These ‘sprint’ sessions will be an opportunity for each team member to not only refine their skills, but also learn each other’s and how each team member will bring value to the team.

This could include:

  • Research methods

  • Defining a customer journey

  • What is an MVP

  • Design tools and methods

  • Open source templates

  • Delivering an effective pitch

6. Hacking

Hackathons are about the minds in the room and as an organiser, you need to ensure they are well taken care of and have everything at their disposal to facilitate success and meaningful hacking.

7. Judging

Have a broad selection of experts in your chosen field. Let people pitch their idea (even if it’s just 3 sentences) because each idea will spark more ideas and collaboration.

So there you have it, the 7 fundamentals of a hackathon. Make it for the hackers and remember the hackathon community is where we continuously help and support one another!

There you have it! The 7 stages of a Hackathon.

Angela Bee Chan

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