I feel concerned with the hackathon climate in Sweden right now. I keep hearing comments about Hackathons being flawed, while I don't think hackathons are perfect the reasons that are often mentioned to highlight the imperfections are in my opinion quite inaccurate.
The flaws that are often mentioned are:
There are few products that result from Hackathons and most projects in or after Hackathons are not commercialised.
Inexistant problems are solved. Teams are creating solutions that are not needed in real life.
After the hackathon the groups do not stay together (meaning that most of the time no company is created as a result of a co-operation at an event).
I don't share this point of view. From my perspective these are not issues with Hackathons. For me a Hackathon is something different.
I believe that Hackathons are great because:
They serve as a source of inspiration, your own teammates and other teams involved in a Hackathon can be a great source of inspiration.
They can be a place where developers with different backgrounds can attempt to bring their ideas to life without worrying about the feasibility of a possible final solution, or the need of having a market segment (economic support etc.).
They offer a unique feeling that everything is possible, when the event starts and one sets out for the unknown.
They are normally a fun event to enjoy, it is not work! Social networking with new friends or a fun project with old ones (and possibly even enemies).
They offer a learning experience on how to solve an issue you did not know needed solving in the first place, which I think is a great way to learn new stuff.
They do not require long term commitment. Entering a Hackathon is a small commitment, no need to maintain any product beyond the event.
They do not require signing of contracts or other the other kind of hustle that is not development.
They give the opportunity to take part in a competition with others, that may push you to do a little extra.
Hackathons and Solutions
A Hackathon does not always need to arrive at a final solution. Often it is enough to raise attention around a certain problem and develop plausible solutions that can be taken to the next level by the society.
Hackathon is a marathon of hacking, no one would ask a sports-star to solve an issue with low milk price in the framing business in Sweden. But they are often expected to inspire and be a role model for future generations. I believe that hackathons should be an inspiration for others rather than the final solution.
In my experience issues often are not technical, usually the problem is in our minds, here are some examples:
The trains in Sweden had a top speed of 90 Km/h early on but were limited to 40 km/h because politicians believed that the speed would be harmful.
Internet was not promoted by Telia (Swedish state telecom company) in the beginning because they did not believe it was the future, and created their own product instead. Tele2 did and was a part of swipnet, the beginning of IP networks in Sweden.
When 46elks was created it was extremely hard to have SMS, Voice & MMS over the internet sent to any application. And this was not mainly due to technical reasons - it took years to get the agreements with the operators but just months to get the service running.
My conclusion is that the issues often only require relatively small amount of work from developers. Instead the big part is often the bureaucracy in trying to explain to the general society what needs to be done in a given situation.
What could Hackathon 3.0 be?
Vinova will announce development funds for improving the Hackations in Sweden. Vinova is an agency that is created to support innovations is Sweden.
I'm also a teacher by profession and all I have learnt, when it comes to how the mind works, tells me that it is super important that hackathons are kept as an open event and are not turned into a forced way of creating a company.
I believe that Hackathons would have the best role in innovations by supporting the community through networking and providing a commonplace for learning new technology. And most importantly show how we can improve the environment we live in without slow bureaucratic systems limiting us
Written 2016-06-28 by Martin Harari Thuresson