Right now, we’re going through some internal accounting at Geeks Without Bounds, getting to grips with exactly what all we’ve done in our short lifetime as an organization, what projects we’ve assisted with, and what the cost to outcome ratio is. It’s a very useful exercise to go through. One of the things that surprised us right off the bat was just how many hackathons we’ve organized and facilitated since our inception. In the past 3 1/2 years we’ve done more than 50 hackathons. A little over 40 of those are just in the last 2 years. So what happens at a hackathon, and why do we do so many of them?
Hackathons are events, usually held over a weekend, where technologists, subject matter experts and even end users get together to solve problems. There is usually a set theme to the event, either a piece of software that everyone is working on or a type of challenge that everyone wrestles with together. A range of skills are brought to bear: from designing usable tools to documentation to writing code or prototyping hardware.
We’ve been involved with the International Space Apps Challenge since its beginning three years ago. We’ve run many Random Hacks of Kindness events and started the off-shoot RHoK-Sec in cooperation with ScotlandHacks for security events. We’ve encouraged women, minorities, and people of all shapes and sizes to empower themselves and their communities with code at Everyone Hacks events in San Francisco and Chicago.
At Geeks Without Bounds we’re proud that we’ve taken the hackathon to new levels. We’ve discovered that humanitarian open source projects grow by carrying on from one hackathon to the next, adding to the code base and the volunteer base with each event. We’ve also developed specialized hackathons like RHoK-Sec where pentesters and security-focused code auditors work to find flaws in projects in a room next to coders who can put in security fixes on the spot. We’ve helped schools use hackathons as a learning and assessment tool, allowing students to put their classroom knowledge to real-world application while stretching their skills in ways they didn’t imagine.
With an average of 8 new solutions coming out of each hackathon, the sheer quantity of production to just come out of weekend volunteer work is staggering. However, in the early days we had a huge concern that too many of the solutions prototyped on the weekends were getting lost in the ether when the hackathon was done. That’s why we started the accelerator program that takes 3 to 4 promising projects at a time through 6 months of mentorship to help them become sustainable long term. It’s also why we’ve encouraged project leaders who aren’t in the mentorship program to pitch challenges based on feature needs or bug fixes at more events that fit the nature of their project.
Taarifa and Bachchao were both carried across several hackathons before joining our accelerator program. Recently, we ran a series of specific hackathons just to work on features and documentation for the Taarifa project in the UK and in Tanzania.
We have some big challenges coming up at hackathons. We’ll be working on sanitation problems at hackathons throughout the Autumn. We’ll also be running more cyber security hackathons that get pentesters and coders fixing flaws in humanitarian projects. We’ve got some sustainability and resilience hacking planned for the near future, too.
So here’s to 50 great hackathons accomplished and many, many more to come. We’re grateful to all of you who have joined us and made amazing things. We hope that you’ll join us to hack a brighter future at an event near you soon. And if you’d like to support the work that we’re doing, please consider a donation of any size to make this all happen.