The first time I heard the word “Hackathon,” I dug out that middle school tool called “context clues” and basically guessed at what it was. My guess: Something to do with technology geeks getting together. Up to that point, the only time I had heard the word “hack” used in reference to technology, it meant something negative, if not criminal. Well, I’ve reached my tipping point. I was recently asked if our organization would sponsor a hackathon, so it seemed only appropriate to find out what the heck one is.
A little research uncovered this:
- Dictionary.com says it is jargon for a “hacking run.” A hacking run is a hack session that lasts for an extended period, usually well outside normal working hours. Hackathons usually take place over a weekend and last about 24-48 hours.
- Software developers, graphic designers, project managers, and interface designers are just a sampling of some of the people involved in these hackathon events. They come together to address a project or issue by using code to develop software or another technology solution. While hackathons will have a theme attached to them, the project ideas can be endless.
Why a hackathon, you ask? I asked some organizers of the Hackathon for the Homeless to see what they had to say. Kim Barrington, organizer for the event, said, “The intensity, diversity, and restrictive timeline helps push everything forward.”
What’s the downside? Brett Lord-Castillo, co-captain of OpenDataSTL, said, “Hackathons build up hype and interest in the project, but there are challenges to having a hackathon.” The sprint style of the event makes it difficult to get everything done. Maintaining the project after the weekend event is also tricky due to funding costs and manpower to continue running the software. Finally, making sure the information is open source is also important. (Open-source means there is universal access to the code via a free license.)
What are they Hacking for the Homeless?
The goal for this particular hackathon is to create software programs that will short-track housing placements for people in our community who are experiencing homelessness. The hack will be “scatter jam” style which means hackers are not locked in to staying at McMurphy’s Café (host site) for the entire weekend. At a scatter jam you will meet up, learn the general theme and concept, mingle and get to know fellow hackers, and then off you go to your place of work, house, library, etc. to work on your project.
Hackathon for the Homeless April 11th-12th
Build for STL National Day of Civic Hacking Event May 29th-31st
GlobalHack IV June 6th-7th
Hack away, People!