What is a Hackathon?

Hackathons: What Are They Exactly?

What is a Hackathon?

Hackathons are like marathons, except way less running!

These marathons instead bring together people from diverse backgrounds and skills to solve a specific problem or develop innovative solutions. We will look at hackathon concepts, define their purpose and benefits, and tell you what participants should do to prepare for these unique events.

Let us take a run (or perhaps a walk) through everything you need to know about hackathons.

Key Takeaways:

  1. A hackathon is an event where participants work on a specific project or problem over a defined period, usually from 24 to 72 hours.
  2. Hackathons bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds to display their skills, learn new techniques, and network with others in their field.
  3. Participants can build their portfolios, learn new tools and techniques, and network with others.
  4. Hackathons allow organizations to find and develop innovative solutions and engage with the broader community.
  5. There are several types of hackathons, such as thematic, location-based, and online.
  6. Hackathons are usually open to anyone, regardless of background or skill level. Participants typically work in teams with defined roles and responsibilities.

Defining Hackathon: A History

The term “hackathon” is a combination of the words “hack” and “marathon.” It refers to an event where participants work on a specific project or problem over a defined period, usually from 24 to 72 hours.

Hackathons have their roots in the software industry, where developers would gather to collaborate on coding and software development projects. In Alberta, Canada, Niels Provos of Open BSD coined the term “hackathon” during a community event. Through Google Trends, since 2004, the word “hackathon” has fascinated more and more people.

Since then, hackathons evolved to encompass many themes and initiatives and became more available to the public. They have become a popular tool for promoting innovation, collaboration, and problem-solving.

Purpose of a Hackathon

Hackathons have specific purposes, such as developing new products, solving set problems, or promoting innovation and creativity.

They bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds, including developers, designers, product managers, entrepreneurs, and more, to work collaboratively on projects.

These various aspects make hackathons an excellent opportunity for participants to display their skills, learn new techniques, and network with others in their field.

Hackathons also create a space for organizations and companies to bring together diverse groups of people to create a product. These products could be an operating system, AI, language programming, and more! Their purpose is just as diverse as those who show up to them.

Benefits of Participating in a Hackathon

Participating in a hackathon can offer a range of benefits to individuals and organizations.

For individuals:

  1. It is an excellent opportunity to build your portfolios, present your skills, and network with others in their field.
  2. It provides a chance to learn new techniques and tools and collaborate with others on projects they may not have been able to work on otherwise.

For organizations:

  1. Hackathons create a platform to find and develop innovative solutions.
  2. They are also opportunities to engage with the broader community and build relationships with potential partners and customers.

Types of Hackathons

There are several types of hackathons, each with its unique focus and goals:

  • Thematic hackathons focus on a specific theme, such as sustainability, healthcare, or finance. These events bring together participants from relevant industries to work on theme-related projects. This website provides a list of hackathons by the different themes offered.
  • Location-based hackathons, such as universities, corporations, or government agencies, are in a specific location. These events supply a platform for local communities to collaborate and develop solutions for problems. HackathonIO provides one of the best websites to find hackathons near you.
  • Online hackathons – As the name suggests, they are entirely online and create a platform for individuals worldwide to join and collaborate on projects. DevPost has an up-to-date list of online events.

Participants in a Hackathon

Hackathons are typically open to anyone interested in the theme or problem, regardless of their background or skill level.

However, the typical participant in a hackathon usually has experience in software development, design, or product management, as well as solid problem-solving and collaboration skills.

Participants in a hackathon typically work in teams. Each team has a defined role and responsibility, and they consist of individuals as developers, designers, product managers, and entrepreneurs.

People usually create their teams based on the skills and backgrounds of the participants to create a diverse and balanced group that can effectively collaborate and develop solutions.

The Hackathon Experience

Hackathons are exciting and dynamic events that create thrilling and enriching experiences.

The energy and excitement of a hackathon are intense as teams race against the clock to bring their ideas to life.

Whether it is through coding, prototyping, or brainstorming sessions, hackathons present an opportunity to learn, grow, and challenge yourself in a supportive and inclusive environment.

The sense of community and accomplishment at the end of a hackathon, when teams present their projects to a panel of judges and peers, is truly unforgettable.

Read or watch other people’s experiences to learn more about the energy of hackathons.

Quick Overview of Preparing for a Hackathon

Before joining a hackathon, it is crucial to do some preparation:

  • Research the specific hackathon you are interested in, including the theme, location, participants, and schedule.
  • Consider your skills, background, interests, and how you can contribute to a team or project. Again, feel free to gain these skills! You can learn these hard skills while at the event.
  • Think about the tools and resources needed for the event, such as a laptop, software, and hardware.
Are you planning an event? Read our detailed guide for tips on how to organize a hackathon.

The Event Itself

Yay! You are finally at the event—now what?

A typical hackathon schedule usually spans 24-48 hours and includes events and activities. Let us use a weekend to describe a regular hackathon.

It usually begins on a Friday evening with an opening ceremony and introduction to the theme or challenge of the hackathon. Then, teams form, and participants have the rest of the evening to network and get to know each other.

On Saturday, the main event begins with workshops, guest speaker sessions, and hacking sessions where teams work on their projects.

On Sunday, teams complete and polish the projects, with a final deadline for submissions in the late afternoon or evening. The closing ceremony follows, where teams present their projects to a panel of judges and an audience. Judges then give awards to the most outstanding projects. Throughout the weekend, there are also opportunities for participants to take breaks, network, and enjoy meals and other recreational activities.

The Projects

Developing a project during a hackathon typically starts with the idea.

Then participants brainstorm ideas and form teams around their favorite concepts. The next stage is prototyping, where teams work to turn their ideas into reality. This stage can involve writing code, designing graphics, creating mockups, and more. The final stage is presentation, where teams present their projects to a panel of judges and the wider community.

The impact that a hackathon can have on a project is significant. The intense focus and collaboration during a hackathon event can also offer valuable exposure and feedback that can shape the project’s future. In some cases, projects developed during hackathons become commercialized and successful startups or products.

The Outcomes

A hackathon’s outcomes vary, from new products and solutions to partnerships and careers.

Participants may form new relationships with others who share their interests, which can lead to startups or the launch of new businesses based on their hackathon projects.

However, commercializing a hackathon project can be challenging and requires careful consideration and planning. Participants should think about the market and demand for their product and the resources and skills they will need to bring it to market.

However, if you came out of the experience gaining something (whether it be skills, relationships, or a career), call the hackathon a success!


Whether you are a developer, designer, product manager, or entrepreneur, joining a hackathon can provide valuable exposure, feedback, and experience. Intense focus and collaboration during a hackathon can lead to incredible outcomes. They can help to shape the future of technology and innovation. The potential for impact is truly remarkable!

We look forward to seeing the new products, solutions, and partnerships emerging from future hackathons.