Scott Durham, the Events Co-ordinator at Future City | Glasgow, is planning Glasgow-based hackathons. These exciting events will be taking place as part of the TSB Future Cities Demonstrator Programme. But what actually is a hackathon? And if you don’t know how to write code, and you can’t or won’t learn, why does it still matter?

What is a Hackathon?

The word ‘hackathon’ is a combination of the words ‘hack’ and ‘marathon’, where the word hack is used in the sense of playful exploratory programming. It is not used with the alternate meaning referring to computer crime.

A Hackathon event – also known as Hack Day, Hack Fest or Code fest – is where computer developers, programmers and designers come together to develop usable software using open data sets. They can use live or static data. Some events focus on particular platforms such as mobile apps, a desktop operating system, web development or video games. Hackathons can last for a few hours, a day and, on occasion, a full week (often powered by energy foods, including pizza).

Hackathon events in the UK

Recently, in March 2013, Hackathon Central held a hackathon challenge event in London with developers called upon to design a mobile app. The winning app enabled residents to anonymously report local crime to neighbourhood police. To design this app the winning team used datasets provided by Twilio, Mydex and The Police UK.

Girl-geek tech power

Whilst the majority of hackathons still tend to be mainly made up of male attendees, don’t think for one minute that women don’t attend. Girls can code too! There are a growing number of women in tech who have been attending events in recent years. Take Jennie Lamere for example: this 17 year old girl won first prize at event where she defeated a room full of motivated and highly experienced adult men.

This hackathon, held in Boston in the USA, was a TVHack event. Young Jennie Lamere, who has a blog writing father who writes computer code, won by designing an app called Twivo. This was a clever hack that resulted in an app that lets you watch DVR-ed television programs without worrying about your “second screen” ruining the show when you check Twitter only to see the show’s ending given away. What you do is simply enter the name of the show, and Twivo (which is short for “Twitter for TiVo”) will block all mentions of it from your Twitter feed. It also syncs your Twitter feed so that tweets show up later when they would have done during the show’s original airing. Jennie Lamere hacked like a champion and came up with the means of making this clever software work.

Why not take part?

Attending your first hackathon is a memorable experience. Hackathons are not only for developers and people who can already code, nor indeed only for people who will ever code. Coding is of course a vital part of the development of any new problem-solving app or software, but there is also an important role for designers, data providers and the people who will benefit from the hackathon outcome. People from all walks of life can have fun at a hackathon event. These events happen across the UK, including Glasgow.

The team are excited to announce that Pippa Gardner (the Project Manager for our Future City | Glasgow City Technology Platform) and Scott Sherwood (City Innovation Lead) will both be involved in the Start-up Weekend Glasgow next month. Pippa will be a guest judge and Scott will mentor participants. It is not too late to sign up: more information available on their website.