Hacking for a personal gain might still be a punishable crime but Hackathons of today actually aim at creating a better world, a better future. The image of people gathering for the purpose of hacking might come to mind when the word “Hackathon” comes up but they are intended for something else entirely. Of course, had it been the literal form of hacking it would not have had been supported by certain government bodies and participants would have been sitting behinds bars instead of computers.
Originally introduced somewhere in 1999, hackathon is a combination of the words hack and marathon. Hack here refers to collaborative programming and gathering, rather than the traditional definition of a cybercrime. Originally limited in the area and number of participants, Hackathons slowly gained popularity to the point that they began to be recognized and endorsed by different companies. The general idea behind every hackathon is that programmers and experts from all over gather in one place to do what they do best, create.
Naturally, for an event to reach such a grand stage, certain rules have to exist. Hackathon, like all other major events, has its own set of rules and regulations. Participants work in teams which they themselves must decide. Teams can start working on the general designs and ideas before the event begins, but each participant must start work on their coding at the same time. Rules regarding intellectual property have also been set, which state that teams are the sole owners of the work they develop and come up with.
Participants aim at developing new ways of improving technology and coming up with ideas to create a better user interface. Recent examples include coming up with a Facebook feature that allowed users almost 50 ways to identify their gender beyond male or female. Participants come prepared for the event as they bring sleeping bags, toothbrushes and pillows with them, as they prepare to sit in front of a computer for hours on end. Hackathon is not just a place of participation but also a place of competition. Multiple teams face off against each other to come up with the best ideas where the winner receives a prize set by the hosts of the event. But ultimately each team has the same goal in the hackathon, they all aim at “hacking” to strive towards creating a better cyber world.
Unfortunately, as these events continue to grow in magnitude, so grows the problems that accompany it. San Francisco-based firm, salesforce.com, became the subject of public criticism after they announced they would give a prize of $1 million to a former employee. It was believed that the former employee had used preexisting codes, hence breaking the rules. After an official review, the judges declared that no rules had been violated, but also decided to select a second winner, consequently calling the competition a draw.
The name might suggest otherwise, but the event truly focuses on promoting ideas to create and innovate. It might not be the hacking everyone is most familiar with but to develop a better, safer digital world is what members in a hackathon set out to achieve.
Editorial by Hammad Ali