Try this collaborative sprint

A hackathon or hack-fest/hack day is any event or competition in which developers, graphic artists, aspiring designers, students, teaching fraternity et al converge and collaborate to achieve a conceived idea in a short time. 

Generally, these last for 24-48 hours and the prototype is the result of collaborative coding based on existing software.  

Problem-solving

A hackathon project could aim to solve a simple domestic issue like water leakage or produce solutions to take on global warming.

Some hackathons are themed. For example, the ‘Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon’ conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) media lab called for ideas to make feeding babies easier and was about driving policies towards equity.

Started in 2014, it has now become a place where nursing mothers, engineers, public policymakers gather to innovate breast-pump products and ensure solutions previously proposed see the light of day. Each year, the event awards the best ideas and ensures they turn into workable projects.

Such hackathons are also an attempt to discuss subjects once considered taboo in the society.   

Healthcare is another sector that hackathons take on. An Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru hackathon focused on reimaging health mostly on the lines of mobility, oral hygiene, bladder condition, eye-care, hearing impairment, and bowel conditions. Eminent doctors, plastic surgeons and others came together to design solution-oriented prototypes or ideas.

There are instances where tech giants have sponsored such hackathons.

As the number of participants is more, there would be many perspectives on the problem on hand. 

How do students benefit from such exercises? 

Since these involve challenges based on real-life situations and dynamic data, they are a good way of testing a student’s capacity to work under pressure and handling challenges. Companies get an idea on how passionate a student is with limited resources like rest, food and sleep. They also get to hire the best software developers and data scientists.

Hackathons provide opportunities for like-minded people to network in addition to collaborations. This leads to team bonding and exchange of knowledge. 

Taking part in a hackathon boosts a candidate’s CV. In addition to technical skills, it’s an index of personality in the rapid-changing career path. It projects a candidate’s capabilities of taking initiative, thirst for learning, problem-solving skills etc.

So, what’s the preparation?

One can keep a tab on the activities in peer institutions and reputed technical educational campuses. As Bengaluru is one such hub, a large number of engineering, computer science colleges regularly conduct hackathons as part of fests.

In fact, the prize money is a decent amount to lure ‘technocrats’. Mostly, students who are into video games populate such fests. However, green-thinking, sustainable alternatives are the themes driving the innovations today.

For example, if someone can ideate on solutions for the problems that plague their city, it would be worth converting into a project— treatment of wastewater, recharging bore wells in scientific ways, etc.

A good amount of research, building confidence in the field chosen, choosing appropriate software or hardware is essential before participating in a hackathon. A hackathon is never an individual’s win, but of a strong team of members believing in each other’s competencies.  

Ethical boundary

Like any other tech-related event, hackathons could also lead to serious ethical violations. Though the government agencies, intelligence, and investigating forces hack for leads on a probe, a student community attempting the same could be seen as unethical.

Hacking a local police website and posting April fool’s message might be funny for a group of people, but it could bring down the credibility of the forum.

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