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How to Host a Virtual Hackathon Online in 2022

What comes to mind when we hear the words “hack” or “hacker”? Most likely a slew of contradictory images. Hack, as in “life hack”: faster, more efficient ways of completing daily tasks. You know, working smarter rather than harder.

But what about “hacker”?

Isn’t that related to breaking/breaking into things online? Or how about that scene in The Social Network with the college kids competing for a job at Facebook?

The truth is that all of the above factors are at work in today’s “hackathon” phenomenon. 

What is a hackathon?

A hackathon is an event where participants use technology, primarily coding, to achieve their goals. Without a doubt, hackathons have taken the world by storm, accelerating the development of everyday products and moving millions of dollars. 

And with the rise of startup hackathons and the availability of online hacking courses (ethical hacking courses), getting started has never been easier!

Examples of hackathons

Hackathons can be classified into three main subspecies in their natural habitat, which is wherever programming drives innovation:

Hackathons that are competitive

Imagine dozens (sometimes hundreds, if not thousands) of programmers hunched over laptops, working solo or in teams to solve a problem or create a product. Prize money, highly competitive jobs and internships, and/or bragging rights are at stake over the course of 24-48 hours.

Hackathons that are sponsored

Universities, Fortune 500 companies, and nonprofits all host hackathons to attract top talent, solve big and small problems, grow their businesses, or simply bring like-minded people together to code. 

Hackathons held internally

In recent years, more and more organizations have used hackathons within their teams. The goal of hackathons is to shake up things, iterate products rapidly, and solve creative problems as quickly as possible.

There is a lot of cross-pollination between the different types of hackathons. Students could compete in collegiate hackathons to win prestigious summer internships and glory, as well as the ultimate 21st-century game of capture the flag: hacking their opponents’ servers for pride and glory.

Hackathons are extremely popular…

A hackathon, in its purest form, creates the ideal environment for developing and refining great ideas. Consider this. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like these words:

 “On your marks, get ready to go!”

 That is exactly what a hackathon accomplishes. 

The most famous outcomes of these time-sensitive incubators have accomplished in 24 hours what would have taken months of trial and error. Hasbro Toys famously created 45 products during a single hackathon. Hackathons have given rise to household names such as GroupMe and WorkFlow, which in the case of GroupMe resulted in a $85 million acquisition by Microsoft.

Fortunately for us, hackathons frequently focus on one key audience: the user.

Virtual hackathons are online gatherings where participants collaborate to build projects. These projects usually have a theme or goal, such as “create an online game” or “the project must integrate with our CRM.” These events serve a variety of purposes, including entertainment, community building, talent sourcing, and more. These gatherings are also referred to as “online hackathons.”

 These events, which are similar to workplace competitions and team building challenges, are common at virtual conferences and virtual retreats.

What exactly is a hackathon?

An online hackathon is an event in which teams collaborate to solve complex problems in a short period of time. Hackathons typically last 24-72 hours and take place over a single weekend, but mini-hackathons of a few hours can also be held. 

Some hackathons focus on specific topics and present thematic challenges, whereas others leave prompts open-ended. Typically, groups develop usable prototypes and products to present at the event’s conclusion. Judges evaluate the submissions and award teams that create the most innovative, functional, and dynamic product or concept.

Hackathons originated in the tech world and are typically attended by coders. However, hackathons can include product development professionals such as graphic designers, project managers, and interface designers. Though hackathons are typically focused on computer programming, you can branch out and brainstorm improvements for a variety of departments.

Hackathons bring together a large number of minds to innovate and create in a short period of time. The spirit of the hackathon will be preserved as long as the sprint-like nature of the event is maintained.

Speaking of shake-ups, you can further revolutionize the hackathon by hosting it entirely online.

While virtual hackathons do not provide the same experience as single-location hackathons, they do encourage radical innovation, creativity, work ethic, and collaboration.

The key to evaluating the success of digital hackathons, and any online industry event, is to use and appreciate the benefits of the web-based platform rather than endlessly comparing the event to its physical counterpart.

You can make your online event a success with careful planning and online engagement strategies. Check out our article on virtual engagement ideas for more information.

 Using foolproof criteria to select hackathon winners

Judging a hackathon can be incredibly exciting—but also stressful and difficult.

 Without a clear hackathon judging criteria for teams, judges are forced to evaluate ideas based on initial redactions, external opinions, and other untrustworthy factors, potentially missing out on great talent. Choosing the “best project” is fraught with anxiety.

 With these four criteria, judges can concentrate on each area separately in order to more accurately evaluate the best ideas and ultimately select a winner. In addition to assisting organizers in selecting winners, having clear criteria is critical for fair reviewing.

With a clear set of criteria for all judges to follow, organizers can rest assured that judges are evaluating their assigned teams in accordance with the same pre-approved criteria. Organizers can also add as many evaluation criteria as they need with Mettl.

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