Hackathon – how to run it


http://www.abhijitbhaduri.com/index.php/2017/11/hackathon-how-to-run-it/ ‎What do you get when you give audacious dreams to people with an impossible deadline? You create a hackathon.

These are great ways to innovate and build a culture that encourages chasing crazy ideas. It is a popular method in Silicon valley not just to innovate, but also to find talent from schools and colleges.

Let the Hackathon begin

People troop in to a large hall on a Friday evening and gather around in their teams (there are always a few solo coders as well). They settle down on the floor, around the desks or on the bean bags that are available. Some get their sleeping bags. No one goes home until Sunday. The bell announces the start of the hackathon at 6pm. The sprintathon starts… It has the frenzy of a sprint and the audacious goal of a marathon. There is a large timer that is showing the countdown. The excitement is visible.

Hackathon are not about tweaks. They are all about exponential thinking.

This is about taking a moonshot within 36 hours or so. The teams get down to building prototypes and speed-coding. It is best if they can create a working prototype in 36 hours. That too about a goal that is crazily tempting simply because of the impact that it could have. And then again… it might fail. So what. Hackathons are not for the faint-hearted. It is race to complete an impossible task.

Midnight already…


(c) Alex Guimarães, FLICKR

The teams go through many emotions as they go through the hackathon. Some teams have disbanded because it is midnight and they have not even started. The debates are getting intense. The teams periodically get up to help themselves to the pizzas and beverages that the organizers have provided.

There are two experts who are available for consultation. Some teams are asking them questions to clarify the nature of the problem. They want to understand what is the problem they are trying to solve.

4:00 am on Saturday

It is 4am on Saturday morning. Some team members are taking turns at grabbing cat naps. There is no time to sleep. The countdown timer tells them that they have another fourteen hours before the hackathon is shut. They wake up the sleeping members and tell them that time is running out. Tempers are getting frayed. They are tired.

But some teams are still full of energy. It can’t be the Red Bull. It has to be the dreams that are fuelling their wide-eyed enthusiasm. They keep munching the pizzas and keep coding. The team members will occasionally refer to the sketches and scribbles on the sheets of papers or laptop screens.

The last 12 hours

The sleep deprivation is showing. The body tells them that they should sleep. The timer tells them that in the last 12 hours, every second counts. The battle of mind over body is over. The mind won. The coders pick up speed and tap away at the keyboards. Each one has to do their bit. Then it will be time for someone to stitch it all together in one seamless program. The pizzas lie half eaten. They have to get it done. It is a crazy sprint now. The leader periodically checks the progress of the team members and encourages them.

The last 2 hours

The last two hours of the hackathon sees the teams experiencing extreme emotions. Suddenly there is a loud groan from a team. They have just discovered a fatal error that tells them that they have to start again. Another team screams with joy and does a high five. Their prototype is working. They are ready to present their idea to the organizers.

Deadline dawn

At 6am the organizers come in to the hall. The timer has stopped. The teams go up one by one (yes, even the ones that were unable to complete the project) and present their idea for everyone to listen to. Only a couple of them are ideas that can be taken forward. But there are so many more that are ready to be explored. And of course, many failures. There are lessons learned. And who knows at the next hackathon, this team might be walking away with the prize.

Have you participated in a hackathon? What did it feel like? Tell me about that adrenaline rush … go ahead and leave your comments below. Thanks.


George Anders describes how Amazon is using hackathons: <click here>

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  1. I completely agree hackathron provided a platform for the ideas to grow. There are lot of ideas or creative thinking young generation have and providing a platform to them is like “encouraging more ideas to come forward and to be implemented.”

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