What is a Hackathon?

National Day of Civic Hacking Most people have probably heard of the term hackathon in today's technology landscape. But just because you have heard of it doesn't necessarily mean you know what it is. Wikipedia defines a hackathon as an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects. They can last for just a few hours or go as long as a week; and they come in all shapes and sizes. There are national hackathons, state-level hackathons, internal-corporate hackathons, open data-focused hackathons, and hackathons meant to flesh out APIs.

Hackathons can also operate on local levels. A couple of examples of local-level hackathons are the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute (BNIA-JFI) hackathon, which just completed its event in mid July, and the Jersey Shore Comeback-a-thon hackathon this past April hosted by Marathon Data Systems.

The BNIA-JFI hackathon was paired with a Big Data Day event and lasted for 8 hours one Friday. The goal of this hackathon was to come up with solutions that help out two local Baltimore neighborhoods: Old Goucher and Pigtown. The two each had a very clear goal established at the beginning of the hackathon but the overall goal was simple: help improve the local community. The data was provided to participants from the hackathon sponsors.

The Jersey Shore Comeback-a-thon hackathon lasted 24 hours straight, taking some participants back to their college days of pulling all-nighters. This hackathon also differed from the Baltimore hackathon in that it did not seem to provide data but instead focused on the pure technology of an application and how it can be used to achieve the goal of alerting locals and tourists that the Jersey shore is open for business.

Both of these events are great examples of local hackathons that look to give back to the community. However, if you want to learn more about federal level hackathons, open government data, or state level hackathons, please join Data Science MD at their next event titled Open Data Breakfast this Friday, August 9th, 8AM at Unallocated, a local Maryland hackerspace.