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Skill Up: Join A 'Hackathon'

Got a weekend to spare? You could build your career & tech skills, make something new and maybe even change the world by joining a hackathon.

What is a Hackathon? 

A hackathon or jam is an event where people get together to solve a challenge and create something in a very short time.

They are normally filled with coders and people who work, study or take an interest in computer technology, but hackers can come from lots of different areas and also include graphic designers, scientists, project managers, engineers and students.

Hackers work, eat and roll out their sleeping bags together in teams to develop a project, usually over 24 or 48 hours. Your task might be to create a mobile app, a game, a toy, a simulator, or a way of sharing data to help people. They are fast-paced, creative and a great way to learn.

Why do People Take Part in Hackathons?

The idea is to cram as many brains together in a small space over a day or two and see what all that combined brainpower can achieve.

Remember, the word ‘hacking’ doesn’t just mean cyber crime; it can also be about using programming to explore new ideas.

Big companies love hackathons because they are a fast and easy way to get different people working together who might not otherwise have time to share ideas. They're also a great way to discover new talent.

NASA holds one of the largest global hackathons – the Space Apps challenge, which brings people together from all over the world to develop news ways of sharing data on earth and in space. 

At the end of the day, hackathons are there to create real things and solve real problems. Some are commercial, some are for fun and many are about not-for-profit causes, so it can be a good way to find out how your technical skills could be used to improve people’s lives.

What Can I Learn from a Hackathon?

You’ll learn teamwork, communication and working to (very) tight deadlines. You should also get a chance to pick up different tech and coding skills from a range of experts.

There will often be people from different companies there so you could pick up some useful contacts to gain more work experience or even a job in future.

Girls at hackathon in NY

What are the Benefits of Taking Part in a Hackathon?

There will usually be prizes for the best ideas or the chance to get funding to develop them further and you’ll be given all the free food, tea and fizzy drinks you can handle.

You might also get some free goodies as a thank you for giving up your time.

How Much does a Hackathon Cost?

Most  are free to take part in and you can check these details when you sign up. If you just want to come and watch the action, you might sometimes be asked to pay.

Do I Need Tech Skills to Join a Hackathon?

Not always. Different hackathons look for different skills, including creative, writing and project management. When an event is posted, take a look at the brief to see who they're looking for. You can always email the organisers to check if you can take part first too.

Taking part in a hackathon can be great, whatever career you want to go into. We’ve discovered hackathons on tourism, food, art, healthcare, energy and more so don't be afraid to try one out!

Where Can I Find a Hackathon?

Stay tuned to SuccessatSchool as we’ll let you know when new hackathons for young people crop up in the UK.

We listed a few regular events below and some other useful links to find out more.

A beginner's guide to Hackathons
Scottish Games Jam
Student Hack
Hackathon search tool
Meetup UK hackathons and jams

Related useful stuff:
The Khan Academy
Free online coding courses
Google making sense of data course