CAN winning ideas be pulled out of the air? Can creativity be grown? Well I’ve got a new word for you to learn: the hackathon.
In the decade since it was coined, the idea has started to take off, big-time.
The word is a combination of hacking – as in computers – and marathon.
It’s a lot of people working to solve certain computer problems, in teams, for a set period. Sometimes they tackle specific problems.
Sun Microsystems invented the name for a conference that worked on applications for their Java program.
The idea spread through north America and Britain.
One spawned a company called GroupMe in 2010 that was sold a year later to Skype for $85 million. (See? Suddenly, you’re interested.) Another created Nitobi, sold to Adobe for a secret sum.
Some run a contest for a weekend, some a week, with several groups competing and judges selecting a winner, usually presenting a prize or a development grant.
If you participate, don’t expect much sleep – bring your sleeping bag – and be ready to live on pizza and Coke for the duration.
Success is driving the idea into wider circuits, outside the programmer arena.
In June this year, the City of Palo Alto put on its Civic Hackathon and attracted 5000 participants.
They called it “an event where technology, entrepreneurship and innovation come together to help shape the future of our community”. The city’s downtown was transformed into City Camp Palo Alto.