What used to be an exclusive tradition in the tech world has now become a universal source for bug fixes and new ideas
Facebook has held them since 1996. Yahoo, Microsoft and other tech companies have also held their own events. These hackathons, mainly consisting of lots of code-breaking, brainstorming and caffeine, were first held to allow employees to code and come up with new software services, away from their regular work. They are responsible for Facebook’s “like” button and other quirky ideas of which many are familiar with.
But the effects of hackathons and the productivity which oozes from them have now become a norm in many big companies. Dropbox, MasterCard, and even Disney have held such events for their employees. Not all hackathons are exactly the same, but the main aim for participants to solve a problem in a given time frame, which can range from a day to a week. Some events are internal, where employees get the opportunity to work with other people within the company. Alternatively, some events are done more publicly, often providing as a good way to seek new recruits or as good PR to boost a company’s reputation.
Company’s hosting hackathon events try to make sure that the whole experience is as appealing as possible to lure in talented coders and software engineers. Bloomberg, for instance, provides unlimited free snacks and shows off the fascinating views from its office in Manhattan. These events often show those can perform well under pressure, and come up with unique ways to solve problems or advance ideas further. These are exactly the kind of individuals many companies are looking for, thus, making hackathons such critical events. Hackathons hosted by universities can usually enjoy eager sponsorships from big businesses wanting to seek young talent. This has pushed job fairs closer to extinction in the tech world.
Interestingly too, hackathons have become a cheaper way for companies to pursue research and development. Normally small startups may not have the means or capacity to take on the masses of engineers involved in a hackathon, and so use the event as a way to advance their products. The public sector has also been attracted to the merits of such methods. In New York City, the US government, as opposed to hiring professionals, set up a hackathon event to see what the wonders of bright minds could do for a new website it wanted to build. Tech companies use the events to improve their own services and also get feedback from the community about upcoming products they plan to release in the future.
Hackathons may seem like a crazy unorganised free-for-all, yet it has many benefits. Many of them have gone mainstream, with countless coding enthusiasts marking down dates of the most important events of the year. It's one of many aspects of the tech industry that to outsiders may seem unusual, but for those who are involved they know it to be something of great value.