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What is a Hackathon?

We’re glad you asked! The word hackathon generally refers to an event where professionals in world of software development come together for one day to one week in order to accomplish a specific goal. These people can be working collaboratively or competitively, in teams or individually, but they’ll all be working to build something new over the course of the hackathon. To boot, most hackathons have a specific focus, which can be a programming language, a framework, a piece of software, or a set of skills in the software development arena. It is an excellent opportunity for experts and novices alike to challenge themselves, share ideas, and drive innovation in their fields.

How Hackathons Work With DemocracyLab

At DemocracyLab, our hackathon's specific focus is always on our main mission: leveraging tech for good.  It's not necessarily about a particular programming language or software; it's about helping tech for good projects take the next big step in their growth and development. If you're curious what we mean by tech for good projects, take a look at our 2020 St Hack Trick's Day page.

We aim to provide a platform to organizations and individuals that have big ideas to create positive change and connect them with industry professionals and students who are ready to volunteer their time and skills to make the world a better place.

These projects tend to need all sorts of services too, not just front end/ backend developers. We know the word “hack” implies a focus on computer programming, but software is not built by engineers alone. A completed project or platform is built and promoted by all sorts of people, from designers to project managers to experts in various fields. Any or all of these roles can be represented at a hackathon.

In fact, the word “hack” is more often in reference to the fact that hackathons are a rush to develop as much as possible within the very limited window of the event.

Most hackathons run for a single day, although some can run for as long as a week. Each hackathon is different. The professionals who attend, the projects that are attempted, and the duration of the event are carefully chosen to support the main goal of the hackathon.

While we do partner with companies locally and across the nation to throw corporate hackathons, our bi-monthly events are open to all. After years of hosting hackathons, we have developed a schedule and structure that ensures that both projects and individual volunteers get as much as they can out of each and every hackathon.

While most hackathons compete for prizes awarded by judges, our events focus on making progress on projects, building relationships, and driving innovation, both at and outside of the hackathon.

Our virtual hackathons are organized a bit differently, as everyone is volunteering from home. Still, despite the change in format, the idea behind the event is the same. We’re still bringing together civic-minded volunteers to create software that is both by and for the community.

There is not physical hackathon location, but we make use of the internet and various platforms to connect our volunteers. Not being tied to a single location means that an even wider variety of volunteers can attend. While our physical hackathons have been attended primarily by local professionals and students, our virtual hackathons have been attended by people all over the nation.

We have found that we can make just as much progress at a virtual hackathon as a physical one. The fact that we are able to accomplish this using technology and software just further underscores our main idea: that even the most challenging problems can be solved when we leverage tech for good.

After The Hackathon: The Next Steps

Hackathons are designed to create a flurry of energy around a project and connect creators so they can collaborate on building and innovating quickly and efficiently. DemocracyLab hackathons do just that.

At each event, we bring together a diverse group of volunteers and manage to quickly and efficiently create and update all sorts of tech-for-good software in a very short time. While we get a lot done at our hackathons, the platforms and projects our volunteer teams work on rarely reach their final, polished form during the event.

Many projects have found a long-term home at DemocracyLab. They return for several hackathons in a row, gaining new functionality and growing more polished each time.

Some contributors choose to stick with the project for the long haul, while others prefer to change it up, sharing their particular expertise with a team before moving on to another opportunity. We love to foster long-term relationships between projects and volunteers, so we encourage newcomers to search for a project that matches their passion and skills. That said, there is a definite value to forging new connections, hearing original ideas, and putting fresh eyes on a challenge. Whether project groups are composed of veteran volunteers, brand-new contributors, or a mix of both, teams always come together and drive their project forward at each hackathon that we host.

Take it from us

Any experienced software engineer will tell you: the process of building a working program or platform is never really finished. There are always features and functionality to add to maximize the user experience and ensure the software is working as efficiently and effectively as possible. Luckily, here at DemocracyLab, we are working year-round to keep volunteers and tech-for-good projects connected and moving forward together.

We’re always seeking to fill the roles that the non-profits, civic organizations, and individual innovators behind the projects need in order to fulfill their vision and serve their communities, as well as updating current and potential future volunteers on project progress.

Join us at our next hackathon or jump right in to a project seeking volunteers with your talents today!