Hackathon Evolution

hackathon evolutionHackathons are just one of many ways technologists get to the information / communities they need. In this weblog I’m not covering all the online resources and communities such as Github, StackOverflow, etc. GitHub reported last April having almost 20 million users and 57 million repositories, making it the largest host of source code in the world, its the most commonly used platform by TADHack participants.

Also I’m not covering Meetups that have become the backbone of local technology communities for training, networking, jobs, and mutual support. Generally they are run by individuals who simply love a technology or discipline; whether its IoT or JavaScript or front-end development. And build-up a local community of several thousand people, achieving 20-80 people per monthly evening meetup. The key characteristics for meetup success are: love/passion, openness, and keeping it local.

The focus of this weblog is on hackathon evolution. A hackathon; also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest; is a design sprint in which coders, graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, subject-matter-experts, and anyone else interested, collaborate to get something demonstrable working.

For the past couple of years we’ve been swamped by hackathons. The main categories are:

  • Internal company hackathons. Generally for large corporation these provide internal training and networking (in large organizations people often do not know what the people down the hall are working on). Smaller organizations have also used these quite successfully across product development, product management and marketing/sales.
  • Internet Monopolists, like Google, FB, Amazon, etc. Providing training, ecosystem building, brand promotion, and simply occupying developer attention away from the competition.
  • University led events like MLH or Campus party.
  • Social Good Hackathons – Code for America, Hack for Good;
  • Online hackathons. A cheap way to get people to look at your resources, but has also suffered from hackathon fatigue and ‘professional entrants’, repurpose ‘winning formulas’.
  • External company hackathons. This category has become more regionalized. For example, in India we see them used for recruitment. This segment has suffered most from hackathon fatigue.

But all of the above have a common issue. Everyone has a great time, learns, networks, amazing hacks are created, and then after the event it all disappears. At TADHack we solve this in a number of ways:

  • Recorded, such a simple thing, yet it acts as a testament to everyone who takes part.
  • Solving problems that matter to the people taking part. Together technology and people can solve what appear unsurmountable problems. This creates the energy to follow-up. For example we partner with Code for Orlando at TADHack-mini Orlando to create hacks that can impact the local community.
  • Follow-up by the community and sponsor’s helping people in these nights / weekend projects.
  • Tenacity. The easiest thing is to pat yourself on the back and go fait accompli at the end of a hackathon. But for that tranche of hacks, the work is just the beginning. This comes back to love/passion, the reason the local meet ups work is because the meetup organizer loves the technology / discipline, and just keeps on pushing. Hackathons require continuous effort, beyond the event itself, encouraging and supporting follow-up.
  • No marketing fluff, focus on what is possible today. It would be too easy to go 5G, AI woohoo! Instead we make things hard for ourselves at TADHack and use an unfashionable / esoteric term, Programmable Telecoms. But our hacks include the latest technologies like IBM Watson, TensorFlow, decentralized internet protocols, and make a real difference in the world today.

Another issue is many technology / service providers consider hackathons something their dev evangelists deal with only, its education / dev fashion. “I want over one million developer registrations!” Those numbers mean little beyond bragging rights. Its OK to snigger when someone brags about the size of their dev community, they’re compensating.

The companies I see that get the biggest bag for their buck from hackathons, treat it like Agile Market Development. They bring not only their dev evangelists, but product development and marketing people, their business development and management team to the events to give them a cold, hard dose of reality.  For a few technology and service companies the hackathon is evolving into a much broader and impactful event, Agile Market Development; short and intense with a massive impact on their business at all levels and departments. BUT the hackathon needs a broad mix of people, hence why at TADHack we have said from the start TADHack is for Everyone!

Beyond Agile Market Development, TADHack has helped people improve their businesses, launch new companies, and so much more. Check out this recent case study on a hack from TADHack-mini Orlando that has been implemented in the real world. Please review the TADHack Weblog to read about all the other projects that have moved from hack to implementation over the years.

Now where does TADHack fit in the taxonomy I listed above? We’re sort of a hybrid across the last 4 categories. We tried to work with the internet monopolist, but its just too hard. We do work with universities around the world. We encourage remote entries, a bit like an online hackathon. We encourage social good hacks and partner with such organizations. And we bring many businesses together focused around programmable telecoms. I think of us as an ‘Industry Hackathon’, bringing the telecoms industry together, to educate anyone who will listen on the power of programmable telecoms. What remains my greatest frustration with TADHack is how few of the Telecoms industry actually takes part.