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DevSpeak: What the Hack is a Hackathon?

March 13, 2024
GalaChain is hosting a massive hackathon event at GDC 2024, co-sponsored by Alienware and AWS.
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Here at Gala… and throughout any part of the tech world, we sometimes forget that the language we use in the course of business is… well, definitely not how normal people talk. We’ve come to terms with this on a personal level, but we want to make sure that nothing ever gets lost in translation with our community

It’s not embarrassing to not know things. In fact, it’s quite normal! We want to help break down some basic jargon and concepts that are thrown around in the development world in this new series.  Welcome to DevSpeak!

A lot of concepts may be oversimplified here, but this is just some basic information to get everybody without a technical background some basic knowledge. Enjoy!

With our registration open for the March 20-21 GalaThon event during GDC, we’ve been talking a lot about hackathons this week! We suspect that there are quite a few people out there who smile and nod when that phrase comes up without really understanding what it means.

That’s OK! Not everyone is a developer or knows their jargon. Today we’re going to go over the basics of hackathons for those who may not have ever participated in one… or even heard the word before!

Hackathon Defined

A hackathon, in its most basic sense, is an event where developers and enthusiasts can gather for collaborative programming. This is an idea born out of the open source community, with decades of nuanced culture and variations.

While collaborative work has existed since long before the computer era, the first event called a “hackathon”, is typically agreed upon as the OpenBSD Hackathon in Calgary, June 4th, 1999. This was a semi-spontaneous gathering of 10 developers all working towards the goal of creating a program that would allow two devices to communicate with each other using an infrared port.

This right away set one of the standard cultural norms for hackathons – that there would be specific goals and parameters that participants were working towards. Often this takes the form of building up a particular piece of software or building tools to accomplish a specific task. In the case of our upcoming hackathon, the parameters are to build on GalaChain using the recently released SDK

Bigger and Better

As the idea of hackathons grew into the mainstream, an entire culture sprang up around them. More and more hackathons saw amazing results from their unbridled creative collaboration, more and more hackathons popped up. Now there is a robust circuit of hackathons happening all year long all over the world.

While in-person hackathons are still widely held, remote tools have allowed even more people to enjoy these short development sprints, leading to more innovation across the world of hackathons!

We’ve put together an amazing prize pool with a total value of $1m for our upcoming GalaChain Hackathon. This is a frequent feature of major hackathons in the modern day. 

While not every hackathon goes as overboard on the prizes as we did, it’s pretty normal to see multiple awards with prizes at the end of development. These prizes will usually be decided by a panel of judges after reviewing the work from each team versus the criteria of the hackathon and the requirements of each prize.

Why Hack?

While prizes are cool, they’re not the biggest reason that people usually want to jump in and participate in a hackathon. Don’t get us wrong, there are some serious devs out there who are professionals on the hack circuit winning prize after prize… but there we see the real reason that a hackathon is an amazing experience. Getting to work with people like that.

The development world is not a place where you go to school, know everything, then stop learning. Tech is changing all the time, and hands-on experience is a huge advantage to both veteran and novice developers. Self-taught devs often hone their skills at hackathons, and those with the benefit of a development education get priceless real-world experience.

Sometimes hackathons are a great way to try out brand new systems and tech (GalaChain anyone!!!), sometimes it’s just an opportunity to work alongside devs who may have more or just different experience than you. A fresh perspective is often where the best innovations start.

Often in hackathons, people will be open to new teammates for their project as well. This is a great opportunity to get in and network – meet new people with obviously shared interests and maybe find future collaborators and fellow hackers.

Last, it’s just plain fun! Development is work for a lot of people. Hackathons represent a chance to actually get out and do something you love without long-term metrics and bottom lines to worry about. At a hackathon, you can build things that never would be built by a company and you may not have time for as a hobby. Creative development and building for the sake of building can truly flourish!

Come One, Come All!

Don’t take our word for it though! If you’re even remotely interested in development and coding, a hackathon is the time to take that passion to the next level! Anyone can join!

A hackathon is a free way to get in and get your hands dirty in the industry. Most hackathons will welcome amateurs, and will provide robust documentation so that anyone can come in and learn!
Even if you don’t win in a hackathon, there’s no way to lose. No one’s efforts “aren’t good enough”. The only way to fail is to not try!

If you want to give it a go, join us on March 20th!