A User’s Guide to Hackathons

So you want to host a hackathon? Former participants and judges share tips on creating a successful hacking experience.

Advertise. “There’s a huge communication effort that goes along with hosting a hackathon,” says Cory Fleming, program director for 311 and CRM technical assistance services at the International City/County Management Association. “You can’t just designate that you’re going to have a hackathon on this day and this location and you’re done. They won’t come quite that way. You really do need to do a lot of outreach and communication [explaining], ‘This is what we’re going to do, and this is what we hope to accomplish. This is why we want you involved.’ ”

Seek sponsorship. Sponsors, including associations, can help get the word out about a hackathon, says Pi Wen Looi, vice president of communications at the American Society for Training and Development Golden Gate Chapter.

ASTD helped line up several sponsors for the recent Hack the Experience event, hosted by employee engagement consulting firm Brilliant Ink. “It got a lot more publicity, and we were able to attract more participants,” Looi says. “It’s a big advantage to have several sponsors who are more or less working on the same kinds of topic.”

Gently facilitate. If you aren’t a developer or computer programmer, the idea of a hackathon may seem a little foreign, says Liz Kelly, CEO of Brilliant Ink. Build some structure into the event to help participants get comfortable with each other and more familiar with the concept of the event.

“Think about how to facilitate it, but with a really light touch because the whole idea of a hackathon is that it’s a kind of a free-for-all, and you want to preserve that idea,” Kelly says.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that the host of the Hack the Experience event was employment engagement consulting firm Brilliant Ink.

(MBBirdy/Getty Images)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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