A portmanteau of the words ‘hack’ and ‘marathon’, the hackathon was originally a gathering of developers to brainstorm and develop usable apps within a short period of time.
Today, hackathons are regularly held events in the information technology (IT) industry. They now involve designers, project managers and subject matter experts that collaborate with developers on new tech developments. Are hackathons now the new gateway to IT industry innovation?
Encourages creative (tech) thinking
Unlike most day jobs where creativity takes a back burner to project deliverables, hackathons encourage risk-taking with a relatively low cost of failure. The hackathon, by its very nature, forces participants to come up with solutions within a short time frame (usually a weekend), and doesn’t penalise its ‘losers’.
These sessions encourage developers to experiment on new codes and exchange ideas with other peers, making them the ideal proving ground for new tech ideas.
Hackathons encourage company and industry-wide innovation by deliberately encouraging experimentation. Because they expose brands to many actionable new ideas and concepts, hackathons help nurture creativity and encourage a problem-solving skills that may not surface naturally in a workday.
Hackathons have been used by large companies successfully to create new products. For instance, some of Facebook’s most useful functions such as the ‘like’ button, Facebook Chat, and tagging in comments were developed in Facebook’s hackathons.
For many countries, hackathons can also expedite their development as a global innovation hub. Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, minister-in-charge of Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative, shared this sentiment at the nation’s largest hackathon to-date, involving 1,100 people. According to Balakrishnan, hackathons are a key inflection point of the Smart Nation programme, empowering Singaporeans to give innovative solutions to real problems.
[email protected], has been held by the Singaporean Government in partnership with companies such as Microsoft, Accenture and IBM Bluemix. In this hackathon, citizens come up with apps that solve specific challenges from senior care to cyber-security.
Drives cross-industry collaboration
In a world where code is the universal language of change, hackathons facilitate the collaboration of tech and industry experts in creating tech solutions that solve a wide-range of real-world problems.
Closer to home, there is a need for more innovative applications across key industries such as finance and information technology (IT). Hackathons provide a space where tech professionals can understand the corporate applications of their programmes through conversations with industry insiders.
For instance, Singaporean bank DBS managed to get viable working prototypes through a mega-hackathon organised last year. In this hackathon, the bank’s employees collaborated with local start-ups to develop solutions tackling DBS’ many challenges. One notable outcome is the winning app DBS iWealth, an interactive wealth management platform developed by tech start-up BuUuk.
Promotes diversity in the IT industry
Hackathons feature an open, collaborative format that can be modified to solve niche challenges across industries – and diversity is no exception.
By organising hackathons around specific challenges and issues, companies open their doors to tech professionals from diverse backgrounds – who then get exposure and opportunities for their career path.
A good example of such a hackathon in Singapore is United Nation’s United We Hack, held last year with a focus on solutions that promoted gender equality. The hackathon’s main aim was to promote innovation towards women’s financial and economic empowerment, and drew great participation from female IT professionals. Tech in Asia, a regional tech news platform, reported that one-third of the hackathon’s participation came from women. As the developer community is usually male-dominated, female developers were able to gain visibility and focus on issues that were not typically on an average innovation agenda.
Bridges the industry-developer gap
In a world where digital disruption is a norm, it’s important for businesses to engage with technology and make it work for them – or risk getting left behind. By being involved in hackathons as organisers or participants, companies can connect with software developers and tech entrepreneurs to generate innovative ideas.
The hackathon is an effective platform for companies to bring industry challenges to light, where they can engage with tech professionals to develop programmes that solve their business challenges. Being in contact with developers and user experience experts helps companies source experts that can help them develop company offerings, which then gives companies an edge in their markets.
Singapore’s Ministry of Defence, for instance, partnered with tech companies Oracle and IBM Bluemix to organize the MINDEF-IoT Challenge, a hackathon which explored Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to improve the country’s defence system.
Helps companies recruit top IT talent
As a solution-oriented event, hackathons can be one of the most effective ways for companies scouting tech talent, both internally and externally. Companies that organise hackathons get to see first-hand how participants use problem-solving and time management skills to solve programming challenges – both vital skills to succeed in an IT career.
Companies hiring from hackathons have a more realistic sense of what candidates can accomplish at their firms, as compared to analysing skills second-hand from resumes.
The benefits of being on the lookout at hackathons are not only restricted to a companies’ location. With international and virtual hackathons that take place online, companies have the opportunity to outsource tech talent beyond their borders as well as develop solutions for international markets.
Facilitates testbeds for IT start-up teams
According to CB Insights, an investment research firm, ‘not having the right team’ is one of the top 3 reasons why start-ups fail – which means that it’s important for start-up teams to be able to work together to ensure start-up survival.
The fast-paced nature of a hackathon is ideal for tech professionals to ‘test’ start-up partnerships. Potential tech entrepreneurs get to assess their teammates’ working personalities within a high-pressure environment.
Mobile marketplace Carousell, for instance, was initially developed as a prototype by a local team in Singapore’s Start-up Weekend 2012. When it garnered a great amount of interest, the team developed it into a full-fledged e-commerce application. Carousell has recently completed a $35m Series B funding round in August, accelerating its growth into new markets.
Hackathons – a hub for solving tech challenges
Today’s hackathon is no longer just a developer’s playground – non-tech subject matter experts are getting involved to drive innovation in their respective industries. This makes hackathons the ideal area where cutting edge technology meets real-world applications with a richer exchange of ideas.