The principle of the hackathon was born at the end of the 1990s in California, in Silicon Valley. Originally, this competition brought together developers and other technology professionals around a common project. The word “hackathon” comes from the fusion of “hacker” (to designate professionals) and “marathon” (evoking the record time from which it is necessary to develop an innovative concept). Thereafter, the hackathon diversifies and attracts, year after year, various sectors which organize it today regularly.
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There are 3 types of hackathons: the internal hackathon is organized within a company and only employees participate. One of the objectives of this type of event may be to increase research and development skills within a company. The external hackathon, meanwhile, brings together professionals from all walks of life. This can be an opportunity for a company to spot new talent among the participants. Finally, the mixed hackathon brings together employees of a company and external profiles. This type of event is particularly useful for finding new ideas.
What is a hackathon?
A hackathon is a competition that brings together several teams with various skills over a period of 24 to 48 hours with the aim of imagining a new service or innovative product on a specific theme. This competition can be organized internally or be open to other participants.
How does a hackathon work?
Steps in preparing for a hackathon
A good organization is necessary for the organization of a hackathon. Its preparation can be summarized in four main steps:
- The search for partners: the sponsors help the organization of the hackathon financially, the technological partners provide the necessary equipment and the media give visibility to the event.
- The choice of location: a large space of the type open space is ideal for encouraging interaction between participants.
- The search for supervising staff: this step is essential for good logistics during the competition.
- The launch of communication around the hackathon: the goal is to obtain significant visibility.
Choose hackathon participants
Methods for selecting participants vary depending on the type of hackathon. If it is open to a targeted audience, the registration forms are available on specialized sites. Potential candidates can also be selected from a database or invited by an event partner.
When it is open to everyone, communication is broader. Candidates can submit their request to participate by filling out an online form or by sending an e-mail to the dedicated address, often available on the generalist media site.
Finally, for a hackathon organized internally, it is generally the company’s communication team that is responsible for informing employees.
The number of participants is often detailed as follows:
- 5 to 10 teams.
- 4 or 5 participants per team.
- 2 or 3 organizers.
- 2 or 3 mentors who supervise and advise each team.
The course of the hackathon
The course of a hackathon is quite codified. It is punctuated by several important steps:
- Welcoming hackathon participants.
- The organization of a short conference presenting the challenges of the event and the expected result.
- The formation of groups.
- The signature of the charter by the participants, who thus accept the entrusted mission and the conditions of organization.
- A brainstorming between the members of each team.
- The experimentation of the first ideas.
- For each of the teams, the choice of the project considered to be the best to present.
- The prototyping of the idea (this step is feasible if the hackathon takes place over two days).
The presentation of the concepts found by the teams
Once each team has completed their project, several ways to present it are possible:
- An online document in PDF format or a PowerPoint presentation.
- An oral presentation of 5 minutes maximum to pitch your idea.
- A model or a usage scenario.
- A prototype or a demo.
The choice of the winner and the hackathon reward
The winner’s reward is announced even before the start of the hackathon. It can be a prize, a sum of money to be shared between each member of the team, a partnership to be won with the company organizing the event or a future order. There are no rules in this matter, everything is possible.
How to win a hackathon?
Different evaluation criteria depending on the hackathons
Each hackathon has its own rules and evaluation criteria. The sector concerned greatly influences this last point. Generally, compliance with the brief is essential and the project should be feasible. It is also essential that the proposed idea provides an answer to a real need.
Top tips for a successful hackathon
A few easily applicable tips can help make a hackathon a success:
- Find out about the organizer of the hackathon in advance in order to better understand the expected result.
- Have team spirit and communicate with other members.
- Have a good relationship with the supervisors so that they are more likely to share some useful tips.
- Be proactive, note all ideas and do not hesitate to encourage other team members to do the same.
- Prioritize the really essential aspects of the project. The MoSCoW method can help you on this point.
- Use all the resources made available by the organizer.
- Choose the person most comfortable speaking to make the final presentation.
Examples of Popular Hackathons
Meta Hackathons (Facebook group)
Since 2013, the Facebook group (now renamed Meta) has organized internal hackathons internationally. The rule during these contests is simple: it is forbidden for participants to bring their project to bear on an area in which they work on a daily basis. About 5-6 Facebook hackathons are held every year. They gave birth to many innovations, such as the famous thumb to like publications and the timeline.
A pioneer of hackathons, Google still organizes these competitions regularly and the themes covered by these events are numerous. Thus, the group can schedule a hackathon dedicated to startups, another which aims to find innovative solutions to solve digital inclusion, while a following one is divided into several areas (health, finance, environment). For Google, any subject is likely to give rise to a hackathon.
Famous video-on-demand service, Netflix regularly organizes hackathons to discover new ideas to implement on its platform. The ideas that germinate during these 24-hour events are then entrusted to teams to be developed.
A few examples: an expression detector that ends the series when the viewer sticks out their tongue or a feature that allows them to go directly to the moment of the video that interests them.
Louis Vuitton Hackathons
Luxury brands are not immune to the hackathon trend. Louis Vuitton regularly invites technology professionals to improve its management tools.
During the last event organized by the brand, around fifty participants model architects and data analysts were invited to develop a collaborative and dynamic planning platform.
To go further, download this free guide and find out how to optimize your project management, using the right method and the right tools.