4 Common Types of Hackathons

As mentioned in the previous article, there is not only one kind of competition named hackathon. In recent years, hackathon is not only for tech-savvy persons but requires collaboration between techies, designers, and businessmen. Based on my own experience, I will classify hackathons into four main categories. I will start from the more technical one to the one with more business elements. You can decide to join which one based on your ability and interest.

Photo by cyda

1. Coding Competition
Hackathon, by looking at this word which is “Hack” plus “Marathon”, you can immediately link it with intensive coding competition. Indeed, it is the true nature of the first-ever hackathon which was organised by OpenBSD in 1999. At that time, hackathons were mostly in an offline format where technical experts were gathered in one place and worked on a programming project day and night. Now, with technology enhancement, many coding contests are put online, so there is no boundary limitation and contestants can work on the task at home or anytime they like. In terms of duration, online competition may last for 1 month to 3 months or even half a year and may include several rounds of submission or semi-finals while offline version may only be held from 1 day to 1 week and may have a participants selection process before the hack day. Besides offline and online, there is also a combination of both. One of the famous examples is Google Code Jam (Check out the link to learn more). Participants will work on a series of online algorithmic problems and finalists are invited to take part in the world final at a place.
Regardless of the formats, all have a common goal which is finding out the program written in the most efficient way (speed) and/or can give the most accurate result (accuracy). There is a very clear judging criterion which may be a log loss function or a very complex logic defined by the organiser. No matter what methodology you used, simple or advanced, as long as your algorithm can score the highest, you will beat other competitors.

Photo by Max Duzij on Unsplash

2. Datathon
Datathon is a subset of coding competition, it also has online and offline versions, why I put it in another category is that this kind of competition has one focus which is told by the name, Data. Datathon may not be a name commonly used (others simply call it hackathon), but I will use it to describe hackathons that provide datasets and participants are required to develop the algorithms based on the data. A perfect example is Kaggle competition. Apart from being a platform hosting dozens of datathons, it is also a very good site for you to get open datasets and learn from others. Some participants will disclose their notebooks so even if you are not joining the competition, you can also view their codes. Therefore, if you are a beginner in the data science field, I highly recommend you to visit Kaggle and explore your interesting topics, you can find a lot of resources and notebook examples.

Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash

3. Hackathon
Most of the common competitions named hackathons are less technology-driven, or I would say they have a weighting of business elements in the judging criteria. Unlike the previous two which only suit for programmers or data scientists, this type of hackathon requires presentation and prototype demonstration, thus, besides tech people, marketers and UI/UX designers are also needed. To elaborate, the business person supposedly is also the most presentable person who will be responsible for the presentation and thinking of the business plan to make the solution economically sound, while the designer will in charge of the user experience and make the prototype fancy enough to draw the audience’s attention, last but not the least, the techie who may be a programmer or a data scientist depending on the topic (sometimes need both) will be the core person to make a functionable prototype so as to illustrate the technical feasibility of the solution. More details about the roles will be talked in the next article.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

4. Business Case Competition
Sometimes, you can find business case competitions also use the name, hackathon, as the organiser may want to include more technology components. Thus, in this type of competition, participants may need to explain the technologies they used in the solution design, but they may not have to make a prototype embedded with the mentioned techniques. If you are a business person and may not know how to do the modeling, you may like this kind of competition, but how can you distinguish this from the other three categories. You can tell from reading the rules. Similar to the usual case competition, participants are required to submit a proposal or presentation deck to illustrate the solution before the presentation day. If you see this in the rule, most likely it is a business case competition.

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Hope you can find the one that suits yourself the best. Have fun in hackathons. Stay tuned for my next update ;)