PreprintPDF Available
Preprints and early-stage research may not have been peer reviewed yet.


Hackathons and similar time-bounded events have become a global phenomenon. Their proliferation in various domains and their usefulness for a variety of goals has subsequently led to the emergence of different formats. While there are a multitude of guidelines available on how to prepare and run a hackathon, most of them focus on a particular format that was created for a specific purpose within a domain for a certain type of participants. This makes it difficult in particular for novice organizers to decide how to run an event that fits their needs. To address this gap we developed a planning kit that is organized around 12 key decision that organizers need to make when preparing and running a hackathon, and the tradeoffs that drive decision-making. The main planning kit is available online while this report is meant as a downloadable and citable resource.
How to organize a hackathon – A planning kit
Alexander Nolte
University of Tartu, Estonia
Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Ei Pa Pa Pe-Than
Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Abasi-amefon Obot Affia
University of Tartu, Estonia
Chalalai Chaihirunkarn
Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Anna Filippova
GitHub Inc., San Francisco,
Arun Kalyanasundaram
Google LLC, Mountain View,
Maria Angelica Medina
University of Tartu, Estonia
Erik Trainer
Fidelity Investments, New
York, NY, USA
James D. Herbsleb
Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Hackathons and similar time-bounded events have become a
global phenomenon. Their proliferation in various domains
and their usefulness for a variety of goals has subsequently
led to the emergence of different formats. While there are
a multitude of guidelines available on how to prepare and
run a hackathon, most of them focus on a particular format
that was created for a specific purpose within a domain for a
certain type of participants. This makes it difficult in particular
for novice organizers to decide how to run an event that fits
their needs. To address this gap we developed a planning kit
that is organized around
12 key decision
that organizers need
to make when preparing and running a hackathon, and the
tradeoffs that drive decision-making. The main planning kit is
available online while this report is meant as a downloadable
and citable resource.
Author Keywords
Hackathon; Planning kit; Organizers; Collaboration; Social
Hackathons and similar time-bounded events have become a
global phenomenon [63] drawing interest from practitioners
and researchers alike [18, 43]. During such events participants
typically form teams and engage in intensive collaboration
over a short period of time to complete a project that is of
interest to them [55]. Due to their versatility as means to de-
velop innovative ideas [7, 9], add features to existing software
[81], foster learning [1, 22, 46], tackle civic and environmental
issues [84, 5, 6, 58] and build new or expand existing commu-
nities [49, 81, 45] they have been adopted by various domains
such as entrepreneurship [47, 10], small-medium size enter-
prises [34], large corporations [50, 31, 59], (higher) education
institutions [57, 23, 8], civic engagement groups [28, 36, 29],
(online) communities [2, 15] and others. This spread into
various domains has subsequently led to a large variety of
different hackathon formats making it difficult in particular for
inexperienced organizers to decide how to run an event that
fits their needs.
While there are a multitude of guidelines available on how to
prepare and run a hackathon, most of them focus on a partic-
ular format such as collegiate events [41], civic events [62,
12], science hackweeks [32, 3] or others that were created
for a specific purpose within a domain for a certain type of
participants. Such guidelines are a great resource for orga-
nizers who already know what type of hackathon they want
to organize. They however often lack information about why
certain aspects of a proposed hackathon format were designed
in the presented way and how the format can be adapted to fit
different needs than the ones the format was designed for. To
address this gap, we developed a planning kit that is organized
12 key decision
that we found to be crucial to consider
when organizing a hackathon. The insights presented in the
planning kit are based on our work researching, supporting
and co-organizing hackathons for the past five years [54, 52,
19]. We intentionally did not go into the details of how to
organize an event in general such as how to secure a room,
book catering and ensure that participants have WiFi access.
Instead we focus on the specifics that organizers need to con-
sider when planning a hackathon that aims to foster a specific
goal for a specific audience in a specific domain. The main
planning kit is available online
while this report is meant as
a downloadable and citable reference. We would thus like
to encourage the reader to consult and use the online version
since we will continue updating it in the future.
The remainder of this report is structured as follows. We
will first provide example timelines for two specific types
of hackathons before elaborating on the 12 aforementioned
arXiv:2008.08025v2 [cs.CY] 19 Aug 2020
decision. The example timelines are mainly aimed for first-
time organizers. They walk the reader through the different
decision points and show examples for how and why they
could decide for one or the other option. Afterwards we will
present the 12 decisions in detail before providing a short
overview of ongoing and future work.
We would like to encourage everyone that uses this planning
kit or that has experience organizing, supporting or researching
hackathons to provide feedback or suggestions on how to
improve the planning kit. Please feel free to contact us
directly propose changes on GI THUB3.
The following example timelines show an idealized procedure
for the organization of two common types of hackathons that
focus on fostering entrepreneurship and the establishment of a
community. These timelines indicate time and outcome of key
This timeline shows an example for a medium sized hackathon
(between 100 and 150 participants) which aimed to attract
entrepreneurs and foster innovative projects that can become
successful businesses.
4 months before the hackathon:
Goal: Fostering the regional development of the start-up
ecosystem related to the cyber security domain.
Theme: Cyber security
Competition / cooperation: Decision for a competition style
event. Teams can win prizes ranging from tech gadgets to
start-up coaching and participation in accelerator programs.
Duration / breaks: Discussion about and decision for a
tentative date for a 48-hour event starting in the afternoon
of the first day and ending in the afternoon of the third day.
Agenda: Discussion about decision for a tentative agenda
that includes daily checkpoints, a final pitch presentation
and an award ceremony.
Participant recruitment: Creation of an information hub.
Contacting local universities, start-up hubs, tech companies,
accelerator programs and government agencies to spread
news about the event through their networks. Start of the
social-media campaign.
Stakeholder involvement: Discussing with representatives
of aforementioned groups about their interest in the event
and invitation to participate as mentors, give thematic talks
and provide sponsorship and prizes.
3 months before the hackathon:
Participant recruitment: Creation of an online form that cov-
ers participantsâ ˘
Z contact details, their current profession
and their projected role during the hackathon. Registration
requires the payment of a small nominal fee that will be
refunded after participation.
Ideation: Decision for a pitch-style ideation process at the
hackathon. Participants can indicate if they have a project
idea for the hackathon and provide a short description as
part of the registration form.
Mentoring: Identification and invitation of a diverse group
of individuals who can provide mentorship related to cy-
ber security, various programming languages, design, en-
trepreneurship, marketing and others. Decision for a com-
bination between mentor teams and individual on-demand
1 month before the hackathon:
Team formation: Teams will form around ideas. They can-
not have less than 3 members, have to be of similar size
and include individuals with diverse expertise and inter-
ests including cyber security, programming, design and
Stakeholder involvement: Finalization of sponsor agree-
ments including prizes and talks at the hackathon.
Participant recruitment: 1-day competitive ideation events
in three cities close to the main hackathon location dur-
ing which participants can start working on ideas and
form teams. Winners receive travel support for the main
1 week before the hackathon:
Agenda: Adding final event agenda including thematic talks,
trainings and talks by sponsors during each day to the infor-
mation hub.
Ideation: Adding information about the pitch procedure to
the information hub.
Mentoring: Introduction of mentors on the information hub.
Hackathon day 1:
Agenda: Welcoming words by the organizers, presenta-
tion of hackathon agenda including idea pitches, mandatory
checkpoints for idea proposers, talks and trainings, expected
outcome (pitch presentation) and jury. Reiteration of infor-
mation hub and contact details for organizers and mentors.
Stakeholder involvement: Introduction of sponsors and sup-
porting individuals and institutions.
Mentoring: Introduction of mentors, their area of expertise
and their role during the hackathon.
Ideation: Participants pitch ideas in front of organizers,
mentors and other participants including information about
which expertise they perceive to be required. Everyone can
pitch. Not only participants that submitted ideas through
the registration form.
Team formation: Ideas are written on large sheets of paper
that idea proposers hang on the walls in the foyer of the
hackathon venue. Participants that did not pitch ideas go
around and talk to idea proposers, discuss their expertise
and voice their interest. Idea proposers select suitable team
members based on interest and expertise. Ideas that do not
gain sufficient interest by other participants are abandoned
and the proposers of these ideas join other teams.
Agenda: Idea proposers present their teams. Quick check
by the organizers if the teams are of roughly equal size and
if all teams have sufficient expertise to start working on
their projects. Teams start hacking.
Mentoring: Mentors meet and form teams with diverse
expertise. Each mentor team is assigned to a group of
hackathon teams that they support during the hackathon.
Mentors focus on their teams but also support others if
Hackathon day 2:
Agenda: Idea proposers present their progress in front of
organizers and mentors at the beginning of the day (1st
mandatory checkpoint).
Mentoring: Mentors meet, discuss potential difficulties that
certain teams face and decide for mentors with related ex-
pertise to support them.
Stakeholder involvement: Thematic talk before lunch time.
Agenda: First pitch training for idea proposers shortly be-
fore next checkpoint.
Agenda: Idea proposers present their progress in front of
organizers and mentors at the end of the day (2nd mandatory
Mentoring: Mentors meet, discuss potential difficulties that
certain teams face and decide for mentors with related ex-
pertise to support them.
Hackathon day 3:
Agenda: Idea proposers present their progress in front of
organizers and mentors at the beginning of the day (3rd
mandatory checkpoint).
Mentoring: Mentors meet, discuss potential difficulties that
certain teams face and decide for mentors with related ex-
pertise to support them.
Agenda: Second pitch training for idea proposers before
lunch time.
Agenda: Third and final pitch training for idea proposers a
few hours before the final pitches.
Agenda: Final pitches of idea proposers in front of all
participatnts, jury, organizers, mentors and online audience
(live stream).
Competition / cooperation: Online voting for audience fa-
vorite, jury decision and award ceremony.
Duration / breaks: Group pictures, networking, end of the
hackathon and departure.
After the hackathon:
Continuity planning: Organizers share summary of the
hackathon on information hub, connect interested teams
with stakeholders and periodically contact winning teams
about their progress.
This timeline shows an example for a small-scale hackathon
(< 50 participants) which aimed to bring together interested
researchers, students and practitioners and form a community
around a novel resource.
4 months before the hackathon:
Goal: Formation of a community around a novel data re-
source which contains a virtually complete collection of all
open source projects around the world.
Theme: Development of research ideas and initial proto-
types that utilize the resource.
Competition / cooperation: Decision for a cooperation style
event that focuses on joint exploration of the resource.
Duration / breaks: Discussion about and decision for a
tentative date.
Participant recruitment: Identification of key individuals in
industry, universities and scientific communities that could
benefit from the resource and that can support the recruit-
ment of individuals that would be interested in and would
benefit from using the resource.
Stakeholder involvement: Discussions with these key in-
dividuals as well as developers and maintainers of similar
resources about their interest in the resource.
Ideation: Decision to ask participants for initial ideas
through the registration form and conduct additional
ideation during the hackathon.
3 months before the hackathon:
Participant recruitment: Invitation of potential participants
through previously identified key individuals. Registration
through an online form that covers their contact details,
open source handle, preferred programming languages and
interests in the resource. Selection of participants based on
Ideation: Ask invitees to propose initial ideas for hackathon
projects through the registration form.
Continuity planning: Invitation of selected participants and
key individuals to common communication channel. Cre-
ation of an information hub to spread information about the
hackathon and the resource.
Mentoring: Identification and invitation of individuals who
are familiar with the resource and relevant technologies to
serve as mentors. Decision for dedicated mentors that are
assigned to individual teams.
1 month before the hackathon:
Specialized preparation: Development of documentation
for the resource including sample code for selected project
ideas that were submitted through the registration form.
Sharing of documentation through communication channel.
Duration / breaks: Decision for a 3-day event starting in
the afternoon of the first day and ending in the afternoon of
the third day with breaks over night.
Agenda: Development of Development of a first complete
agenda that focuses on hacking during the day with breaks
breaks during each day for socializing and networking.
Ideation: Planning for ideation session at the beginning of
the event. Card based brainstorming with questions focus-
ing on the usability and usefulness of the resource.
Team formation: Decision that teams will form around ideas
and that members should come from different institutions.
1 week before the hackathon:
Specialized preparation: Pre-hackathon webinar to intro-
duce participants to the capabilities and usage of the re-
source. Interaction during webinar that allows participants
to connect to the resource and run code samples.
Mentoring: Introduction of mentors and their area of exper-
tise at the webinar.
Hackathon day 1:
Agenda: Welcoming words by the organizers, presentation
of hackathon agenda and expected final submission (source
code and presentation slides) and reiteration of communica-
tion channels and information hub.
Stakeholder involvement: Introduction of supporting indi-
viduals and institutions.
Mentoring: Introduction of mentors, their area of expertise
and their role during the hackathon.
Agenda: Participants introduce themselves to each other.
Ideation: Card based brainstorming. Participants write
ideas on cards and share them with the organizers.
Agenda: Break for participants to socialize and network
and for organizers to integrate ideas that were submitted
through the registration form and to pre-structure brain-
storming cards into thematic clusters that can be the basis
for hackathon projects.
Ideation: Discussion of pre-structured clusters and adjust-
ment based on participant input.
Team formation: Participants select cluster / project based
on their interests while observing the rule that they should
be from different institutions. Adjustments to ensure that
teams are roughly of equal size.
Mentoring: Mentors join teams and support them to connect
to the resource, scope their project and help with technical
issues. Mentors focus on their teams but also support others
if necessary.
Agenda: At the end of the day teams introduce their mem-
bers, share their concrete project idea and their plans for the
next day (1st checkpoint).
Duration / breaks: Social dinner at the end of the day.
Hackathon day 2:
Agenda: At the beginning of the day the organizers lay
out the agenda for the day and reiterate the expected final
submission. Teams explain their project ideas and share
their plans for the current day (2nd checkpoint).
Duration / breaks: Lunch break.
Agenda: After lunch teams share their progress, problems
they ran into and their plans for the rest of the day (3rd
Agenda: Social game during the afternoon.
Agenda: At the end of the day teams share their progress,
problems they ran into and their plans for the final day (4th
Duration / breaks: Social dinner at the end of the day.
Hackathon day 3:
Agenda: At the beginning of the day the organizers lay
out the agenda for the day and reiterate the expected final
submission. Teams share their progress, problems they
ran into and their plans for the remainder of the time (5th
Agenda: Final presentations of teams before lunch. Dis-
cussions about the content of the presented projects and
problems the teams encountered during the hackathon.
Continuity planning: Teams share presentations and code
repositories through communications channel.
Duration / breaks: Lunch break, group pictures, end of the
hackathon and departure.
After the hackathon:
Continuity planning: Organizers distribute summary of the
event directly
After the hackathon:
and provide regular
updates about the resource through communications chan-
Stakeholder involvement: Organizers suggest for stakehold-
ers to share publications and other outcomes they produce
using the resource through communications channel.
In the following we will outline the twelve key decisions that
organizers should consider when planning a hackathon. For
each decision, we provide information about
should consider making it,
should be involved in the
to make the choice and implement its result,
and discuss potential
among the various options.
The order in which the decisions are presented is deliberate
but not strict. Moreover, not all decisions are relevant for
each hackathon. Prospective organizers should thus perceive
the following list as a suggestion for which decisions can be
important but decide for themselves which ones they consider
for their specific purpose.
Goal setting is key for hackathon design. All parties should
be clear about their goals going into an event and consider the
attainability and clarity of these goals. A failure to consider
them could result in disappointment among participants and
Setting goals for the hackathon should take place before any
planning of the event begins. A common timeframe is to form
goals about 4 months before the start of the event. Before
deciding for one or multiple goals the organizers can consult
with projected future participants (section 5.5) and potential
stakeholders (section 5.4) about the value and feasibility of the
projected goals and continue discussions about details after
the general direction has been set.
Organizers, stakeholders, and participants are involved in set-
ting goals for their hackathon. In practice, organizers often set
initial goals and modify them in collaboration with stakehold-
ers, which is done in the early phase of hackathon planning.
Participants are often also asked to express their goals for the
event through e.g. a pre-hackathon survey (section 5.5). It is
important to note here that the organizersâ ˘
Z goals may not
always be aligned with those of the participants. For exam-
ple, organizers might aim to foster entrepreneurship whereas
participants simply aim to pursue their interest related to a
particular topic or project. It is not necessary that organizers
and participants have identical goals, but organizers should be
aware of potential goal disparities and take necessary actions
to maximize the satisfaction of participants with different goals
[42]. The participants, for example, might have a superset of
the organizersâ ˘
Z goals, or the organizersâ ˘
Z goals may be
achievable even if only a subset of participants shares them.
The organizers should be aware though if goals are incompat-
ible, (e.g. the organizers want to benefit a charity, while the
participants mainly want to start a business), the participants
may have unrealistic expectations and leave disappointed. It
would be wise for organizers to adapt their recruiting approach
(section 5.5) and their messaging to attract attendees with
compatible goals.
There are several goals that organizers may aim to achieve
when organizing a hackathon. Clarity of goals is strongly
related to participant satisfaction and outcome quality [20].
The most common goal around which hackathons are orga-
nized is the
production of artifacts or products
. We observe
two different strategies that organizers use to achieve this goal.
The first strategy involves the recruitment of experts from dif-
ferent fields (section 5.5) and the facilitation of brainstorming
(section 5.8) to produce cross-pollinated project ideas. Brain-
storming has also been found to be associated with better
outcomes for self-identified minorities [20]. The organizers
using this strategy should devote most of their effort on recruit-
ing stakeholders (section 5.4) from diverse groups that will
benefit from meeting and working with each other. For exam-
ple, they might include local startup communities, volunteers
and activists, non-profits, accelerator programs, investors, tech-
nology companies and others. Moreover, organizers should
design their events in a way that fosters participants to meet
and work with people outside their regular networks and con-
tribute to initiatives outside their usual scope. The sections
dedicated to ideation (section 5.8) and duration/breaks (sec-
tion 5.7) contain helpful ideas to facilitate networking among
participants. One common example are regular checkpoints
(section 5.10) to ensure that participants communicate with
each other about their projects several times during the event.
For example, a series of hackathons organized by Garage48
[25] aims to foster the startup ecosystem by connecting en-
trepreneurs with domain experts, investors, accelerators and
others. Similarly, BioInnovation Days [53] gathers together
students, researchers, mentors, and startups to develop proto-
types in the domain of bio-medicine. The Global hack [70]
is a recent example of an online movement where enthusiasts
from different countries hosted several hackathons to address
the global pandemic.
The second strategy is teaming up experts and novices as men-
tors and apprentices, which enables the positive side effects
of vertical
networking and learning
. Hackathons adopting
this strategy should focus their efforts on identifying experts
in the field and themes of their events, abilities of participants,
modularization of projects to support parallelism, and the use
of relevant mentoring strategies [49] (section 5.11). One exam-
ple of this type of hackathon is Astro Hack Week [65] where
a diverse group of participants ranging from novices to ex-
perts in the fields of astronomy, physics, statistics, machine
learning, and data science gather together to learn skills nec-
essary for the analysis of astronomical data through tutorials
and then solve open problems in the astronomical community.
Another example is a series of hackathons organized by the
team at Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) managing
the science program and operations of the Hubble Space Tele-
scope (HST) [53] where astronomers and software engineers
are teamed up to facilitate fruitful cross-domain discussions
among them. World of Code [77] is another example for a
hackathon where students are teamed up with faculty members
to learn how to do quantitative research on the behaviors of
open source software (OSS) projects through the worldâ ˘
largest OSS dataset.
1. Goal compatibility (Organization goals vs personal
Although the organizational goals may not neces-
sarily be compatible with personal goals of the participants
[42], the huge disparity among goals will lead to dissatisfy-
ing with experience and artifacts generated. One essential
responsibility of organizers is then to identify any poten-
tial misalliance among goals and ways to mitigate it. This
could be done by clear a presentation of organization goals,
selective recruitment of participants (section 5.5), upfront
negotiation of goals, and adaptation and customization of
the hackathon process and outcome based on goals (section
2. Illustrating a concept vs producing something useful:
Teams can either aim to develop illustrative proofs of con-
cepts, or software that can actually be used to help accom-
plish a task. In our experience, teams that have not worked
together extensively (i.e. flash or ad hoc teams) are likely
to spend more time discussing what to build and how to
go about it, and how to pitch their projects to potential
stakeholders, and they should thus aim to produce
engineered demos and videos
, with mock-up data, which
require little engineering effort. For teams that have worked
together extensively, as in a corporate hackathon where in-
tact existing teams participate, it is often desirable for them
to aim for a prototype with
sufficient functionality that
could be used almost immediately in the real context
3. Challenging vs achievable:
Research has shown that
groups accomplish more and are more inclined to continue
working on a project when they have goals that are challeng-
ing [48]. Goals that are too easy fail to motivate them to do
their best. On the other hand, goals that are so challenging
that they are, or seem to be, impossible to achieve can also
be demotivating. Choosing appropriate goals involves an
understanding both of the participants capabilities and in-
terests, as well as a realistic view of what can be achieved
in a short time frame. One useful approach for managing
this tradeoff is to set (or encourage each team to set) both
a relatively easy goal, and a more difficult â˘
AIJstretchâ ˘
goal. This gives teams the opportunity to feel that they
achieved something meaningful, as well as motivation to go
beyond this and attempt something very challenging.
4. Goal clarity:
Although hackathons should ideally be de-
signed to achieve goals of both organizers and participants,
there are circumstances where their goals are not aligned
[20, 42]. This occurs, for example, when organizers hold a
hackathon to connect professionals working across different
fields, but participants wish to develop viable product proto-
types. It is important for organizers to recognize such po-
tential goal conflicts and plan accordingly to be reasonably
able to achieve their intended goals. One way to address this
tradeoff is for organizers to clearly state their goals during
recruitment (section 5.5) so that participants know what to
Most hackathons focus on a specific theme. A theme refers
to a specific topic or cause that motivates the organization
of a hackathon which in turn sets its boundary. A theme
helps organizers to address a particular topical area and devise
solutions for problems within this area.
Organizing a hackathon commonly starts with a theme.
Themes are generally developed in conjunction with the goals
of a hackathon (section 5.1), typically 4 months ahead of the
While the decision for a specific theme resides with the orga-
nizers, it is advisable to discuss it with relevant stakeholders
such as non-profits, investors, educational institutions or others
(section 5.4).
The organizers should decide the initial theme of the event and
invite potential stakeholders interested in their proposed theme
to discuss its feasibility and develop project ideas related to
this theme. Themes can range from general to specific, e.g.
fighting a global crisis [70], mining a large-scale open source
data source [77], building cybersecurity solutions and teaching
cybersecurity skills [25, 1], learning data science through solv-
ing astronomical and geo challenges [65, 69], computational
biology [51], neuroscience [74], environmental issues [84],
and high performance computing [72].
The theme focuses potential project ideas on immediate needs
or outstanding challenges in the chosen area. One such need
is to
speed up development work
. A series of hackathons by
a team of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) that
manages science programs and conducts experiments on the
Hubble Space Telescope (HST) [53] is one such example. In
this case events were organized to speed up the conversion
of tools to a language, bringing together individuals who are
using such tools for their work. Hackathons organized by
Garage48 [25] are other examples of speeding up the devel-
opment of cybersecurity solutions. Another need is solving
outstanding challenges which could take a form of technical
debt or scientific advancement. A team participating in a cor-
porate hackathon we studied [44], for example, utilized the
time during that hackathon to implement a tool to automate
recurring manual work.
Another reason for choosing a specific theme is
hack to train
Astro hack week [65] and Geo Hack Week [69] are examples
of this type where participants are first trained to apply ba-
sic analysis and coding skills and gather domain knowledge
before moving on to solve challenges in the respective do-
mains. Singaporeâ ˘
Zs BrainHack of the Organization for
Human Brain Mapping (OHBM) in 2018 [74] is another ex-
ample. There the organizers held parallel training and hacking
tracks to get participants up to speed with technologies and
approaches they might require to work on projects in this
A theme might also be chosen to
build resources for a spe-
cific community
. One example for this is the World of
Code (WoC) hackathon [77] that aimed to bring interested
researchers and together and identify requirements for a large
archive of open source data. Another example are events orga-
nized by the Open Bioinformatics Foundation (OBF) which
aims at improving and extending existing resources and infras-
tructure and publishing papers about the accomplished work
1. Speed vs quality:
Hackathons operated under the themes
related to of speeding or accelerating could quickly advance
the development work in a specific domain with proper im-
plementation. Getting things done fast and quick however
does not mean that such hackathons produce quality arti-
facts, i.e. they might be workaround solutions and need
code cleanup or dependency reduction, and thus follow-
up work is usually required to ensure the quality of the
developed artifacts.
2. More general vs more specific:
Themes can be very spe-
cific, e.g., building an app to monitor occupancy levels in
a local shelter, or much more general, e.g., help local gov-
ernments support sustainability. Very specific themes can
be effective in helping to ensure the work actually serves
a useful purpose but runs the risk of not matching up well
with the interests of a large group of potential participants.
More general themes allow more latitude for participants to
develop projects that align with their personal interests but
run a greater risk of not matching up with a real need. To
address this tradeoff organizers should make sure they un-
derstand the motivations potential participants. To achieve
this, they may want to conduct a survey to assess their
attitudes toward different theme variations.
Competition / cooperation
One key decision that organizers need to make when designing
a hackathon is whether to provide external incentives in the
form of prizes, which introduces a strong element of competi-
tion into an event.
The decision whether to have a competitive or collaborative
hackathon should be made several months before an event.
Competitive events, in particular, take considerable time to
organize. Organizers must find credible judges, decide on
suitable award criteria, determine prizes and prize categories,
and ensure that prizes can be handed out at the end of an event.
If the prizes have considerable monetary value or will involve
a time commitment from experts whose time is very limited
(e.g., the opportunity to pitch the teamâ ˘
Zs winning idea to
potential investors), there may be considerable work for the
organizers to secure sponsorship.
Organizers, sponsors, and other stakeholders (section 5.4)
involved in setting goals for a hackathon should consider
whether and how to introduce competition to their event. It is
also extremely important to consider the goals of participants –
picking a structure that does not further their goals will make
recruiting (section 5.5) difficult. If participant goals are not
clear to the organizers, a brief survey or interviews with a
sample of the population of interested participants can be very
Cooperative events
are typically structured around a
mon goal
(section 5.1) or
(section 5.2). An example
for cooperative events is a series of cooperative hackathons
[17] that was organized to accelerate the development of in-
tegrated web services in the field of bioinformatics. Teams
there worked on projects involving data standardization and
interoperability of tools and services among others. Other
cooperative hackathons aim to perfect an artifact. For exam-
ple, the Debian Linux project launched the Debcamp event
[67], a hacking session before the Debian Conference, where
software developers whose work depends on the Debian Linux
software distribution worked together to promote the redis-
tribution, general availability, and mutual compatibility of
software. Another example is a corporate hackathon series
organized by STScIâ ˘
Zs Hubble Space Telescope team that
aimed to accelerate the migration of data analysis tools imple-
mented in an old obsolescing language to a contemporary one
Competitive events
focus on teams winning prizes. Winners
can be selected by a
or based on a
popular vote
. Some
hackathons also award special prizes to projects that meet
specific challenges posed by sponsors or other stakeholders.
If winners are selected by a jury, it is necessary to invite
judges and to specify suitable judging criteria. For judges, the
organizers may consider recruiting (domain) experts from a
university, community leaders, or representatives from tech
companies [37]. Some commonly used judging criteria include
appeal to market, creativity, originality, completeness and level
of difficulty. For a competition to be perceived as fair, it is
important that judging criteria are well known in advance and
that organizers make sure that participants do not simply turn
up with solutions that have been built prior to the event. There
are different approaches to award prizes based on a popular
vote. Voting can e.g. be limited to on-site participants only or
it can be replaced or augmented by online voting. The latter
requires an online voting system as well as final presentation
sessions to be live-streamed or presentation materials to be
distributed online.
In order to select the winning teams, the organizers should
create a dedicated session at the conclusion of a hackathon to
allow each participating team to pitch and demonstrate their
idea to the entire audience of an event. This session could take
the form either of an
on-stage presentation
or a
(science) fair
In the former approach, each team is typically given a set time
to present their prototypes in front of the entire event audience.
For this it is important to inform participants in advance how
their presentation will be evaluated, the presentation format,
and the time limit. The commonly used presentation format
starts with a brief introduction of team members and problems
that they tried to solve, which is followed by a live demo
[64]. It is also possible that teams record a short introductory
video and focus on their demo during the presentation. In
a (science) fair style presentation session [50], each team is
commonly allocated a booth in a large-enough space to set
up their presentations and judges and visitors visit each booth
to interact with the teams. This approach facilitates a greater
face-to-face interaction between participants, judges, and other
attendees. At the Microsoft OneWeek Hackathon we observed
[50, 44], teams could both attend a science fair and upload
a video to an online platform where other participants and
observers could vote on their favorite projects. This online
voting enables individuals who are not able to attend the fair
in person to participate in winner selection.
Prizes can vary greatly, with tech gadgets, cash prizes and
opportunities for continued development of winning ideas
probably being the most common. The opportunities for fur-
ther development can take the form of providing additional
resources, computing power, freeing up participantsâ˘
Z time
to work on their project post-hackathon, or simply the opportu-
nity to pitch their idea to top executives or investors. Awarding
cash prizes is not always feasible or recommended approach
[38]. Major League Hacking (MLH) for example provides a
few non-cash prize ideas [27] such as laptops, headphones,
conference tickets, etc. as alternatives. Moreover, hackathon
organizers need to decide for
how many prizes
they offer in
relation to the number of participating teams. Offering many
prizes at a small event might reduce their perceived value
which in turn can negatively affect participant motivation [48].
1. Competition vs cooperation:
Competition is suitable for
hackathons aiming to create innovations because, under
competitive pressure, teams are likely to generate unique
solutions to differentiate themselves from other compet-
ing teams and put more effort in their projects. However,
competition discourages communication among teams, and
hence is not suitable for hackathons aiming to enrich net-
working among participants beyond their own teams, or to
engage participants in a common goal. On the other hand,
cooperation works well whenever it furthers the organizer-
Z and participantsâ ˘
Z goals, such as promoting a civic
cause, providing different pieces of an integrated solution,
or learning about programming tools or a particular domain.
To reduce the severity of this trade off, it might be advisable
to de-emphasize the prizes in a competitive event so that
participants do not over-emphasize competition, e.g., by
having prizes that are largely symbolic rather than great
cash value. Heavily emphasizing prizes might put off many
potential participants especially if they feel that the odds of
winning a significant prize are low, that their idea might not
work well with the proposed judging criteria or that judging
might not be fair.
2. Jury vs popular vote:
Experts are more appropriate as
judges if the desired criteria are technically complex. They
will be much more able to determine if a prototype is actu-
ally feasible, for example, and if it actually addresses the
problem claimed. On the other hand, if the desired result
is something that addresses a widely-experienced need, or
to produce something that seems cool or stylish, a popular
vote may be more suitable.
3. High value vs low value prizes:
High value prizes create
a more serious atmosphere and level of competitiveness,
and organizers will have to be very careful about finding
skilled judges and applying the pre-specified criteria in a
way that can be perceived as fair by hackathon participants.
The rules will have to be very clear, e.g., about whether
teams can form and start work prior to the hackathon and
whether they can bring code they have written with them to
the hackathon. If the highest possible level of professional-
ism, skill, and innovation is the goal, high value prizes are
a good choice. Low value prizes are better when organizers
and participants have a variety of goals such as learning,
expanding social ties, or attracting new people to a commu-
nity. As the value of prizes approaches zero (e.g., special
hats or shirts), competitive hackathons can look much more
like collaborative hackathons. With inherently competitive
populations, however, even symbolic prizes can make some
teams behave very competitively.
Stakeholder involvement
Hackathons commonly focus on a specific theme (section 5.2)
or take place in a specific domain. It thus appears reasonable
to include stakeholders related to this theme or domain to
participate in the organization, execution and follow-up of a
hackathon. They can provide valuable input, help set the stage
of an event, make it more engaging and fun for participants
and support the sustainability of hackathon outcomes (section
5.12). Deciding about how and when to involve stakehold-
ers in the planning and execution of a hackathon is thus a
crucial decision that organizers have to take because it will
fundamentally shape the experience of participants during the
Organizers should think about which stakeholders to involve
early in the planning process because their input might have a
considerable impact on the design of the event itself. The way
each stakeholder participates in the planning, execution and
follow-up of a hackathon is then subject to individual plan-
ning and can potentially happen later in the planning process.
Stakeholders and their role in relation to the hackathon should
however be decided upon and announced prior to the start
of the hackathon to be able to include them in information
While conducting a traditional stakeholder analysis [61] might
be too time-consuming, organizers certainly should think
about who might be interested in or affected by the outcomes
of the hackathon they plan to organize. Depending on the
theme of the event organizers might want to involve university
departments (e.g. for a collegiate event [76]); investors, incu-
bators, and customers (e.g. for an entrepreneurial event [25]);
managers and executives (e.g. for a corporate event [50]); vol-
unteers and activists (e.g. for a civic event [66]); scientists and
technical experts (e.g. for a scientific event [53]). These are
just a few examples for potential stakeholders. The decision
for whom to involve and how to involve them ultimately lies
in the hands of the organizers.
Much like the decision for which stakeholders to involve, the
decision for how to involve them allows many options. In the
following we will outline common examples for stakeholder
involvement. These should however not be perceived as ex-
haustive. Organizers should discuss options with stakeholders
and decide for a model that fits their particular event.
One common way of involving stakeholders in a hackathon
is as
. This can include them providing resources in
exchange for being mentioned on the hackathon website, in
handouts or on posters at the hackathon site or them providing
specialized equipment or sponsoring awards or specific activi-
ties during a hackathon. The website of Major League Hacking
provides a good overview on how to attract sponsors includ-
ing different sponsorship options [39]. The advantage of this
approach is that the outline and organization of a hackathon
remains solely in the hands of the organizers while sponsors
provide additional resources for the hackathon to take place.
Another common way of stakeholder involvement is to in-
vite them as
. Similarly, stakeholders can also hold
training sessions
during an event e.g. related to specific tech-
nologies they are familiar with and that participants might
use for their projects. Both approaches allow stakeholders
to be present during an event and provide useful context and
input for participants that they can utilize when planning and
working on their projects. Moreover, it leaves the option for
participants to decide whether to use the input for their projects
or not.
Another common way of involving stakeholders in a hackathon
is for them to serve as
(section 5.11) or
. Serv-
ing as mentors – in comparison to the aforementioned role
as speakers or trainers – allows stakeholders to directly work
with participants, provide targeted feedback and steer them
into a specific direction [49] and foster learning [1]. Utilizing
stakeholders as jurors can also be beneficial because they can
provide realistic project assessments based on their area of
expertise and again provide useful feedback to participants
when discussing their verdict.
In addition to serving in the aforementioned roles, stakeholders
can also
provide access to additional resources
in the form
of datasets, documentation and access to interested parties
such as potential future customers or domain experts [13].
This requires them to be accessible during the hackathon but
it allows participants to seek input and advice on demand.
For some hackathons it might also be feasible for stakeholders
propose specific challenges
for the participants to address
[49]. We observed this model mainly in scientific hackathons
where scientists proposed project areas or challenges that were
related to their area of expertise or that would help them in
their work. Participants can then choose which challenge or
project to address and how to address it.
Finally, stakeholders can of course also attend an event as
or serve as
. This is particularly
common for corporate hackathons where organizers and partic-
ipants often are employees of the same company that organizes
the event [44]. Involving stakeholders as participants can how-
ever be difficult especially in an open event that welcomes
individuals from various domains and backgrounds since stake-
holders might be inclined to take over projects and adjust them
to fit their ideas or goals.
1. Depth of stakeholder involvement:
The main difference
between the aforementioned models of stakeholder partici-
pation is how much they can influence what happens during
a hackathon. In some cases, it might be useful for stake-
holders to be deeply embedded e.g. when a hackathon aims
to solve specific issues within a certain domain such as the
development of software artifacts that fit within an existing
ecosystem. This might however limit interest by projected
participants thus making it hard to attract and retain par-
ticipants during a hackathon. Balancing these two sides
can be difficult for organizers. One way of addressing this
tradeoff is for organizers to allow stakeholders to provide
input but limit their interaction with and active participation
in participants projects.
2. Open project selection vs selection among proposed
Most hackathons allow participants to work
on any project they want. This approach can foster creativ-
ity and interest because it allows participants to work on
any theme they are passionate about. It will however likely
also lead to participants working on projects that might or
might not be related to the goals (section 5.1) organizers had
when organizing their event or projects that might not be
useful for the domain the hackathon was organized in. Pro-
viding specific challenges ensures that participants work on
projects that are relevant to individuals outside the context
of the hackathon thus increasing the probability of projects
to live on after the hackathon has ended (section 5.12). It
does however limit choice for participants and thus might
lead to limited interest and frustration. One way to address
this tradeoff is for organizers to propose larger topic areas
of themes that guide participants to a specific direction but
allow for them to develop their own idea related to this
Participant recruitment
Participant recruitment is one of the most crucial elements
of hackathon design. After defining goals (section 5.1) and
themes (section 5.2) for the hackathon, organizers should ask
themselves: Who would be the target audience for an event?
When should they start recruitment? How to draw interest and
attention to an event? We will provide suggestions for those
in the following.
Participants need to be recruited and have to register before
the hackathon. The exact time that recruitment needs to occur
varies based on the scope of the event, the degree to which the
target audience is known, and the amount of planning needed
for potential participants to take part in a hackathon (i.e. loca-
tion and time). As such the organizers should discuss who they
would want to participate at the very beginning of the event
organization before they develop or deploy any recruitment
strategy. Organizers sometimes recruit participants up to a
year before an event as e.g. in the case of events for special-
ized communities such as Astro Hack Week [65] or Geo Hack
Week [69]. Other events such as collegiate hackathons spon-
sored by Major League Hacking typically start recruitment
about two months before the actual event [40].
Taking their event goals (section 5.1) and themes (section 5.2)
into consideration, the organizers should identify the charac-
teristics of the target audience they aim to recruit. For some
events with broad appeal, college students who have taken a
programming class may be sufficiently specific. For others,
e.g. PhD level astronomy students the recruitment efforts will
have to be very targeted and provide compelling motivation for
that particular population. Stakeholders (section 5.4) that are
connected to the targeted audience can support this recruitment
There are two general strategies for participant recruitment:
open and closed
. The organizers should decide which strat-
egy to use based on the goals of their hackathon. Open re-
cruitment targets a wide range of participants with the aim to
diversify participation. As such, open recruitment is typically
used for hackathons whose main goal is to build a community
around the cause or theme. The aforementioned hackathons
Astro Hack Week [65] and Geo Hack Week [69] used open
recruitment inviting anyone with an interest in astronomy
and data science. Alternatively, the organizers could also
use closed recruitment thus only inviting specific participants
who e.g. are internal to a specific community. Examples
for such hackathons are Microsoftâ ˘
Zs OneWeek Hackathon
[44] and the STScI hack days [53] who only recruited among
their employees. Many tech companies hold such events to
foster innovation, to promote a more open and innovative
culture, and to help create richer and farther-reaching social
ties [55]. If the event is a community event, organizers need
to identify and invite individuals who might be interested in
the particular cause or theme that serves as the glue for the
community. Hackathons mostly are recurring events that are
sometimes held by groups, such as scientific research commu-
nities, who have continuous needs to train members, maintain
or implement new features, or work on interoperability issues
for shared tools. The HackWeek Toolkit provides detailed sug-
gestions for defining a suitable audience and scope an event to
the needs of specific communities [3].
After the target audience is identified, organizers should set up
website which should contain basic information about
the event
such as dates and venue, contact information to
enable interested participants to communicate with the orga-
nizers, and a registration form. The process of setting up and
publishing a website can be streamlined by e.g. creating a
repository on GitHub as in the case of the World of Code
(WoC) hackathon [78]. It is helpful for the organizers to de-
cide on a particular hosting platform, e.g., GitHub, before the
event. The organizers should then publicize the website to
potential interested participants. When using a GitHub project
URL organizers can also encourage interested participants to
communicate with them via GitHub issues. In addition to pro-
viding information the organizers should also provide contact
information and be accessible for potential participants via
email and Slack.
The organizers should also create a
pre-event registration
form using e.g. Google Forms which should be accessible
from the website. Through this registration form organizers
can also collect additional information about participantsâ ˘
skills and background, preference of projects and areas, and
goals and expectations if they decide to do so. Forms can
also include open text boxes to allow participants to propose
project ideas (section 5.8) or indicate if they are planning to
come as a team (section 5.9).
Promoting and advertising
an event is typically done by dis-
seminating the previously discussed website to potentially
interested individuals through various channels such as pro-
cessional networks, mailing lists, student groups, university
departments, personal networks, and social media such as twit-
ter and Facebook groups depending on the target audience
[40]. The organizers could also send direct email invitations
to individuals who might be interested in taking part in the
hackathon as participants or who might promote the event to
potentially interested individuals.
open selection
of participants is often preferred be-
cause that it allows every registrant to take part in the event,
some hackathons organizers decide to
carefully select partic-
[4]. Reasons for selection might be constraints such
as the maximum capacity of a venue, funding, etc. as well
as to broaden participation from various communities. As
described earlier, the choice of the strategy is very much de-
pendent on the event. For example, if the goal of the event is
to broaden participation in a specific software development
community and most registrants are predominantly from a
single institution or background, the organizers might want
to consider deploying other strategies to broaden their reach.
For hackathons with a learning goal, the organizers should
a mix of more and less experienced participants. Likewise,
hackathons that aim to foster entrepreneurship or the develop-
ment of sustainable artifacts might want to attract participants
from diverse backgrounds and expertise [48]. One approach
that seems promising is organizing a mini-hackathon with par-
ticipants from the community that they wish to attract prior to
the main event. This approach has been successfully deployed
by the She Innovates [75] hackathon. This is an all-women
hackathon which aims to get women participants familiarized
with the hacking process before they move on to events with
more diverse participants.
participant recruitment and selection should
start as early as possible
, at best right after the event theme
and goals are formulated. This gives organizers more time
to adjust their recruitment strategy when needed, increasing
the chance to attract a sufficient number of participants that
fit their desired profile. For large events, using an online tool
can be helpful for the selection process. Entrofy [68] is an
example for such a tool that allows organizers to extract a
subset of registered participants based on certain attributes e.g.
gender, career stage, etc., and given value (i.e. the percentage
of distribution for each attribute).
1. Open vs selective recruitment:
An open recruitment strat-
egy is advisable for hackathons that aim to facilitate net-
working among participants or hope that they would find
new collaborators for future work. However, if the goal
of the hackathon is to have a more concrete outcome e.g.
creating a working prototype, or learning a specific tool,
selective recruitment may help bring in participants most
able to contribute or most able to benefit. Selective recruit-
ment helps organizers to diversify participation or select a
desired mix of skills and abilities that best serve the pur-
pose of the hackathon. This in turn helps create teams that
have the skills and expertise to achieve their project goals
which can then foster long-term project continuation [48].
For hackathons with selective recruitment, it is important
to make the selection process as transparent as possible
e.g. by letting potential participants know how the selec-
tion process works, how participants are selected if there
are more eligible participants for each category, or which
attributes are given greater weight than others, etc. This
helps ensure that even if they are not selected, participants
might feel the fairness of the selection process and might
not feel discouraged to participate in similar events in the
2. Open vs closed hackathon:
In a closed hackathon, only
members of a particular organization are eligible to partici-
pate. This allows the organizers and participants to freely
discuss and work on non-public topics such as new products,
competitive strategy, and proprietary technologies. It also
makes it easier for teams to coordinate their work, since
members of the same organization generally share a culture,
technical language, and role expectations. On the other
hand, open participation allows a much broader mixture of
people from different backgrounds, domains, and areas of
expertise, which facilitates innovation, learning and com-
munity building.
Specialized preparation
Organizers might want to run a hackathon related to a specific
theme (section 5.2), in a specific domain or utilize specific
software and hardware during their event that are not com-
monly available to participants. Such events thus potentially
require the organizers to provide trainings, access to licenses
or hardware for participants to be able to work on projects
during this hackathon.
Preparation activities can be done remotely, onsite, or both.
If the theme (section 5.2) and goals (section 5.1) will likely
require specialized technical knowledge (e.g. particular tools,
languages, or frameworks) or domain knowledge (e.g. com-
munity needs, or a scientific field) it is important to develop
ways to bring participants up to speed before (usually 1 to 3
weeks) or very early during the event. The organizers may
also want to facilitate team meetings if teams are formed in
advance (section 5.9) so that they could discuss project scope
and plan, assign tasks, and experiment with technologies to be
used during the hackathon. Assuming participants have free
time and sufficient motivation, this can help the work move
along more quickly when the hackathon begins.
The organizers should work with mentors (sections 5.9 and
5.11, [49]) to coordinate training programs. Mentors will in
fact often be running those programs, since they are typically
chosen based on their expertise. For hackathons when team
formation (section 5.9) occurs in advance, it is advisable that
the team leaders are chosen, so they can organize team meet-
ings. Organizers can also encourage projected participants to
prepare for the hackathon by e.g. setting up a code base in
advance [48] or study technologies that they might want to use
for their project.
The organizers first need to identify
what technologies and
topics are necessary
for people to participate in their event
and to what extent participants should know about them before
coming to the event. One common way to help achieve this is
for organizers to arrange training programs in which partici-
pants are taught specific technologies or domain knowledge
that they would need to use at the event. These programs can
consist of webinars developed by the organizers, or pointers
to existing resources that are available, e.g. on Youtube, or the
Coding Academy website [14] and that projected participants
can use to prepare themselves [48].
The organizers should ensure that the tutorial materials are
to all participants. This typically includes posting
them on the hackathon website, the collaboration platform
through which the hackathon is organized, e.g. GitHub, or
other document sharing tools, e.g. GoogleDrive.
are often delivered as pre-recorded videos with in-
teractive Q&A at scheduled times. If the training, for example,
is related to the configuration of the development environment,
participants can watch a pre-recorded video, replicate the steps
shown in the video, and communicate with trainers during the
Q&A session and/or via emails. Alternatively, tutorials can be
delivered live by a mentor (section 5.11, [49]) which guides
a group of participants through activities interactively. For
groups of larger size, it might be advisable to form smaller
subgroups of perhaps 5 to 10 participants, each guided by
one mentor. In practice, live tutorials can present a schedul-
ing challenge, as it might not always be possible to find a
common time for all participants particularly when they are
geographically distributed. Moreover, tutorials may also need
to be customized based on the participantsâ ˘
Z skill levels,
e.g. novices need foundational knowledge first before learning
advanced skills while experienced participants might want to
skip such basics (section 5.5). In such situations, it is advisable
that organizers cluster participants into groups of similar skills
and provide appropriate materials for each group. The World
of Code (WoC) hackathon [77] is an example where mentors
trained participants in small group tutorials in real-time a few
days before the event via Skype.
For hackathons that wish to train participants onsite, we have
observed two approaches that can be effective. The first ap-
proach is
train to hack
as done by Astro Hack Week [65] and
Geo Hack Week [69]. In this approach, participants spend
most of their time hacking, while also spending a considerable
amount of time (e.g. 25-50%) on training of particular skills
and domain knowledge required to conduct research work
afterwards. The second approach is participants
between hacking and training
. An example of the second
approach is high performance computing (HPC) hackathons
which run in parallel with the super computing conference [72]
where participants distribute their time between hacking and
attending conference sessions. BrainHack 2018 of the Organi-
zation for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM) in Singapore [74]
is another example that allows participants to swap between
hacking and attending training sessions during a concurrent
In case the hackathon involves
specialized hardware
, the
organizers might want to ensure that it arrives at the hackathon
site early so that it can be set up before the participants arrived.
Moreover, organizers might want to ensure that a specialist
is on-site during the entire event that can help with technical
1. Pre-recorded videos vs real-time training:
training videos resemble a traditional mode of instruction
that offers limited interaction between the participants and
trainers. While questions can be addressed in a live session
after the training, spontaneous adaptation of the training
to attain better learning outcomes is not easily achievable.
Adaptation and customization are possible in real-time in-
teractive training, as human trainers are aware of the diffi-
culties that participants are experiencing and can quickly
act to mitigate such difficulties. The latter however is not
always feasible for larger groups.
2. Training before vs training at the hackathon:
training permits more hack time as opposed to onsite train-
ing which requires participants to split their time between
hacking and training. Pre-event training, however, demands
participantsâ ˘
Z willingness to spend some time for training
before the event, and that delivered in real-time settings
demands both trainers and participants are concurrently
presented which can present scheduling problems.
Duration / breaks
When organizing a hackathon, organizers have to decide when
to start, when to end and when to take breaks in between.
These decisions are crucial because they can influence who
would be motivated to come, whether attendees can maintain
a high level of motivation, how the event will be perceived and
how participants engage with each other beyond working on
their projects.
The overall timeline of a hackathon needs to be decided on and
announced early during the planning process since it serves
as a basis for recruitment material (section 5.5) and for peo-
plesâ ˘
Z decision to attend the event. The overall timeline
should include dates and times (including start, end and poten-
tial overnight breaks) for each day. Other breaks during the
hackathon can potentially be decided on and announced later.
The decision for when a hackathon will take place, how long
and it should be and how many breaks it will have is commonly
taken by the organizers. For this decision they can consult pro-
jected participants (section 5.5), mentors (section 5.11, [49])
and other stakeholders (section 5.4). Including external stake-
holders is especially advisable when the hackathon focuses on
a specific theme (section 5.2), takes place in a specific domain
or aims to attract participants (section 5.5) from backgrounds
that the organizers are not particularly familiar with.
When thinking about a hackathon most people will probably
think about an event that starts on a Friday afternoon, ends on
a Sunday, runs overnight and has little to no breaks in between
with teams just tirelessly hacking away on their project [26].
While this is a common hackathon format it certainly is not
the only one. Organizers can decide for their event to take
place at any point during the week and have breaks overnight
as well as during the day. When deciding about the timing
of their particular event, organizers should take the following
aspects into account.
They should consider the background of their
projected par-
(section 5.5). While it might be ok for students to
participate in an event during the week and stay up overnight,
this might not be possible for people that have fixed working
times or busy family lives. Corporate events we studied often
took place during regular working hours and participants could
choose to go home for the night or stay and continue working
[44], while civic events often take place in the evening and can
be spread out over multiple weeks with breaks during hacking
times to allow for participants to network [66].
Another aspect to consider when deciding for the duration of
an event is the
context or domain
(section 5.2) an event takes
place in. In a corporate setting it might be feasible to focus on
regular working hours because relevant stakeholders that can
e.g. serve as mentors or provide thematic input might only be
available during certain times. These times can however be
considerably different e.g. in a civic context where stakehold-
ers may be more likely to be available after regular working
It is also important for organizers to consider their
tion 5.1) for organizing a hackathon when deciding about
when to start, when to end and when to take breaks in between.
If their goal is for teams to develop polished prototypes, they
might want teams to focus on their project and thus not take
too many breaks to not affect their productivity and rhythm. If
the organizersâ ˘
Z goals should however be for participants
to network, they might want to consider regular breaks during
which participants can socialize.
Breaks can also serve as opportunities for organizers to con-
vene and discuss with mentors (section 5.11, [49]) and stake-
holders (section 5.4) and potentially alter the course of an
event. For example, during a community hackathon we stud-
ied, the organizers took time during a break to sort ideas pro-
posed by participants to structure the following team formation
process (section 5.9, [78]).
1. Overnight vs breaks during the night:
The main advan-
tage of organizing a hackathon that takes place overnight is
that participants have more time to work on their projects.
Working overnight can however take a toll in that produc-
tivity can be expected to drop during the night and the fol-
lowing morning. Breaks during the night limit the available
working time but allow for participants to get some rest and
engage with activities beyond the hackathon. To address
this tradeoff organizers might consider providing the option
to work during the night by e.g. keeping the venue open
but leave it to the participants whether they would like to
take a break. To avoid participants feeling social pressure to
work during the night, organizers could also emphasize that
it might be helpful to take a break or organize an activity
that could reasonably mark the end of the hacking day such
as a dinner.
2. Weekend vs during the week:
Organizing a hackathon
during a weekend might make it more likely for people
to participate since many projected participants can be ex-
pected to be busy during the week. It might not be advisable
though to organize a hackathon for corporate employees
during a weekend. Organizing a hackathon during the week
might also provide access to stakeholders that will not be
available during the weekend. To address this tradeoff, or-
ganizers could utilize a mixed format where the start of the
hackathon is during the week and it ends during the week-
end. This would allow participants to access stakeholders
during the first crucial phases of a hackathon when ideas
are formed.
3. Short vs long:
Deciding on the overall duration of a
hackathon can be difficult. An event needs to be long
enough for participants to be able to make progress on
their projects, but it should not drag on endlessly because
participants might lose interest. To refocus interest organiz-
ers could ask stakeholders to give talks, provide examples
or otherwise engage participants with the theme of the event.
Generally, it is not advisable though to drag an event on for
too long. One of the characteristics of a hackathon after all
is that it takes place over a limited time span. An overall
hacking time of about 48 hours divided over multiple days
has proved to be a good rule of thumb.
4. Time for work vs time for breaks:
Depending on the
goals of the organizers it might be advisable to organize
multiple breaks during each day for participants to be able
to get away from hacking and socialize. Having many
breaks will however cut into the time participants will have
for their projects and might leave participants frustrated
because they did not make sufficient progress. To address
this tradeoff organizers could use breaks such as breakfast,
lunch or dinner for participants to socialize.
One of the main motivations for individuals to attend a
hackathon is the prospect to work on an exciting project. It
is thus crucial for organizers to think about how to support
participants to come up with interesting and attainable project
ideas they can work on during a hackathon. There is also
evidence that some ideation approaches, such as traditional
brainstorming, can help self-identified minorities feel more
welcome and their ideas more accepted during the event [20].
Ideation typically takes place before the hackathon, but or-
ganizers can also plan for a dedicated ideation session at the
beginning of the event itself.
Participants typically propose their own ideas. Especially
for ideation during the event, trained facilitators can help the
participants generate ideas efficiently and harmoniously. It is
also possible to guide ideation towards a certain direction that
appears feasible and useful to organizers and / or connected
stakeholders (section 5.4).
The most common ideation approach is for participants to
develop ideas that are related to the
theme(s) of a hackathon
(section 5.2). Hackathon themes are often intentionally broad
covering areas such as civic technologies [11], environmental
sustainability [71], entrepreneurship [47] and others to allow
for a large variety of ideas to fit under their banner. Organiz-
ers and stakeholders can also decide to narrow the scope of
potential ideas by proposing specific problems (areas) that par-
ticipants should address. This approach is suitable for targeted
events (section 5.1) that e.g. aim to develop technologies for
a specific community [53]. It is important to leave space for
participants to develop ideas that are of interest to them, to
ensure their motivation to participate.
Ideation can take place
before or during a hackathon
. For
larger audiences it might be advisable to collect ideas prior to
an event using technologies such as Google Docs or GitHub
issues. It is important to use technologies that projected par-
ticipants are familiar with. Collecting ideas through such
technologies not only allows participants to describe their
ideas but also enables others to comment, provide feedback
and express interest. They also allow organizers and stake-
holders to pre-screen ideas, adjust their ideation approach and
capture ideas for future use beyond the context of a particular
hackathon (section 5.12).
Conducting a separate ideation session
at the beginning of
a hackathon
using common approaches [16] such as brain-
storming [30] might lead to more interaction between par-
ticipants, organizers and mentors (section 5.11) and foster
ideation. It also allows organizers to guide ideation by asking
targeted questions [82] and clustering ideas e.g. based on par-
ticipant interest. Ideation during a hackathon does takes away
time for hacking though especially for larger audiences.
Collecting a
sufficient number of interesting ideas
is crucial
for a successful hackathon because ideas usually are the basis
for team formation (section 5.9). Collecting many interest-
ing ideas is, however, not the only aspect to consider during
ideation. While being challenging enough to be interesting for
participants to attempt and potentially continue after an event
[48], ideas should also be attainable. This means that they
need to be doable during the short duration of a hackathon,
that the team that attempts them has or can quickly attain the
skills required to complete a project based on that idea, and
that there are sufficient resources available at the hackathon,
including, for example, specialized hardware, licenses, cloud
resources, or others (section 5.6). Organizers, stakeholders
and mentors can support teams to select suitable ideas and
help them scope their project during the hackathon.
Finally, it is important to consider that
some ideas might be
extremely popular while others do not draw much atten-
. If some ideas prove extremely popular, the idea can
sometimes be split into parts, or several teams can be formed
to pursue the same idea. If ideas are not popular at all it should
be clear to all participants that they will not be attempted dur-
ing the hackathon. Participants proposing ideas thus have to be
prepared to let go of their idea and potentially join a different
team and work on something else.
1. Priming vs open ideation:
Leaving ideation completely
open and in the hands of the participants can lead to them
to coming up with ideas that are not, or only marginally,
related to the goal of the hackathon, or with ideas that are
not doable due to other constraints imposed by the setup
of the event (time, specialized resources, available skills,
etc.). If the primary goal is just to have fun or some basic
exposure to coding and its possibilities, this may be fine. On
the other hand, imposing strict limitations on the ideation
process by e.g. limiting participants to address specific
challenges proposed by organizers or stakeholders can in
turn negatively affect the motivation of participants to attend
an event and take on the proposed challenges. To address
this tradeoff, it is thus advisable to always leave room for
participants to develop their own ideas even when proposing
2. Individual ideation vs group ideation:
This tradeoff is
common for most creativity techniques. Asking participants
to develop ideas individually and share them after ideation
has ended typically leads to more diverse ideas since people
tend to follow the direction of ideas that have already been
proposed. Some participants might however also benefit
from others sharing their ideas because it can foster their
imagination. One way of dealing with this tradeoff is to
take a two-step approach by asking participants to submit
individual ideas prior to the hackathon and then sharing
them at the beginning of the event allowing other ideas to
be added. Moreover, posing multiple (potentially contradict-
ing) ideation themes might also help participants to come
up with diverse ideas.
3. Time for ideation vs time to hack:
Conducting the
ideation at the beginning of or during a hackathon pro-
vides organizers with an opportunity to steer its direction,
emphasize ideas that they perceive to be best related to their
goals and allow participants to develop additional related
ideas. It does however also cut into the time that remains
for hacking. This tradeoff becomes more problematic for
larger hackathons because each participant should have the
chance to propose ideas to keep the morale up which might
not be possible at larger events. For larger events it is advis-
able to move ideation online or to ask participants to send
ideas before the event. Ideation prior to an event can also
allow participants to familiarize themselves with the idea,
create common ground and start learning about potentially
required technologies [1, 50].
4. Too large vs too small:
Ideas should be interesting and
challenging but at the same time doable during the short
duration of a hackathon. One approach to deal with this
trade-off would be to let participants propose wild ideas
first that can then be scaled down to doable projects through
mentoring. In order to avoid mismatched expectations, it
is important for participants to be gently encouraged to be
realistic in what they can hope to accomplish during an
event. Prototypes where only a few example features are
implemented simply, and difficult technical challenges such
as analyzing substantial data sets or developing APIs are
simply faked. Such compromises are common and often
Team formation
Another important decision for organizers is selecting an ap-
propriate strategy for selecting projects and forming teams.
Teams are typically formed from the recruited participant pool
(section 5.5), around projects of interest to them.
Participant recruitment (section 5.5) and ideation (section 5.8)
are prerequisites for the team formation process. Team for-
mation and project selection can take place either
before the
at the beginning of the event
. Each has its advan-
tages and disadvantages, as we will discuss in the trade-offs
below. Even if the intent is to choose teams and projects at
the beginning of the event, organizers should expect that some
participants may join the hackathon as a team, with firm ideas
about what they want to work on, and with whom.
There are three roles involved in the team formation and
project selection process. These roles are project
, and
. The proposer refers to someone
who pitches a project idea at the event. This role can be taken
by participants, organizers or stakeholders (section 5.4). The
joiners are participants who selected the project they are in-
terested in, sometimes also selecting a role that they would
like to play at the event. For example, during Microsoftâ ˘
OneWeek Hackathon [56], project proposers specified roles re-
quired for their proposed projects and other participants joined
the project teams by taking one of these roles (cf. Microsoft
HackBox [21]). The organizer or a dedicated person takes the
role of moderator who facilitates the team formation process
in order to configure project teams with skills, expertise, back-
ground, and reasonable size required to complete the projects
they aim to work on. For hackathons at scale, it is important
to assist the moderator with a tool that facilitates the matching
of participants and projects.
In order to successfully form teams with skills required to com-
plete the projects proposed at a hackathon, it is often helpful
to have a diverse participant pool (section 5.5). Organizers try
to attract suitable participants as part of participant selection
and recruitment process which has to be finished before team
Teams can be formed either by
open selection
or a
strategy. In open selection, participants select
projects and roles that they want to play based on their in-
terest from the list of all available projects and roles. In the
assignment strategy, a mediator assigns projects and roles to
participants. The hybrid strategy narrows down the partici-
pantâ ˘
Zs search space by filtering out projects and roles that
seem to be of lesser interest to participants or that they might
be less qualified for. For assignment and hybrid strategy, it is
important to gather participantsâ ˘
Z needs and expectations
beforehand to optimize team formation. Information like that
is typically collected through the registration process as part
of participant recruitment.
Forming teams
before a hackathon
requires suitable online
tools such as Google Docs, Google Forms or GitHub issues.
Suitable tools need to support project listing and sign up. For
example, in the STScI hack days [53] we observed that Google
Forms were used to collect project preferences and skills.
Based on this information, the organizers configured teams of
3 to 6 participants with a good mix of skills. Some hackathons,
e.g. Steelhacks [76], suggest participants to form teams of
5. These tools work well for smaller events (say, 50 or fewer
participants) but a more sophisticated tool would be required
for larger scale such as Microsoftâ ˘
Zs OneWeek Hackathon.
They deployed the online tool HackBox [21] that allowed
participants to create projects proposal, sign up for projects and
search for additional members with specific skills or interests.
It is common for teams to form
at the beginning of a
(section 5.10). This process needs to be fairly
efficient so that teams will have sufficient time to actually
work on their project. One common approach is to allow par-
ticipants that have a project idea to pitch it in front of the other
participants and write each idea down on a flip chart or white-
board (section 5.8). The remaining participants are then given
some time to walk around and chat with the project proposers
and select a project they would like to work on. It is common
to aim for teams of similar size between 3 and 6 members. It
is particularly important for competitive hackathons (section
5.3) to have teams of similar size since a large difference be-
tween team sizes could lead to an unfair disadvantage for some
teams. Moreover, large teams should be avoided because they
typically require additional coordination effort which can limit
the time a team has to actually work on their project. They
thus need to potentially be split up, and ideas that do not draw
much interest are generally abandoned. In another small-scale
hackathon we observed, organizers asked the participants to
rank proposed projects in order of their preference in Google
Docs and participants were assigned to the project on a first-
come-first-serve basis. This process might not be feasible
for events at scale and using a tool like HackBox would be
necessary even if team formation occurred at the hackathon.
For hackathons where teams are formed on site, it is sometimes
desirable for organizers to propose projects, and either post
descriptions in advance, develop brief pitches and make them
available to participants as videos, or describe them at the
beginning of an event. This approach is particularly useful
when the goal (section 5.1) of a hackathon is, for example,
to introduce newcomers to a particular domain, tool set, or
scientific community. In these cases, it is very difficult for the
projected participants to develop with feasible and appropriate
project ideas themselves.
In the following, we describe a number of trade-offs between
various strategies used to configure teams in hackathons. It is
important to note here that these trade-offs are not independent,
and organizers should consider balancing them when making
decisions about team formation and project selection.
1. Forming teams before vs at a hackathon:
projects and even forming teams before an event can help
to get the project work under way more quickly at the
hackathon itself. However, there are some costs to this
approach. Projects proposed before an event, even if there
is an opportunity to pitch at the event itself, are likely to be
chosen since participants have become familiar with them.
They will not have the benefit of being discussed face to
face with the potential for cross-fertilization and innova-
tion this can provide. Moreover, if teams are chosen before
an event, there is generally very little interaction, during
the hackathon, among participants on different teams. If
growing a community and forming broader social networks
are important goals, it is generally advisable to pitch and
discuss ideas at the hackathon itself.
2. Proposing projects by participants vs by organizers:
Most hackathons allow participants to define their own
project ideas, and this is often a primary motivation for
participants, to do something fun and acquire skills they
want. For some hackathons, however, participants are sim-
ply not in a good position to formulate projects that are
feasible and appropriate for the theme of an event. They
may lack technical skills, domain knowledge, or both. In
these cases, it is desirable for organizers to define projects
that will help the participants. This approach combines well
with pre-event tutorials and dedicated mentors (section 5.11,
[49]) because teams will likely need a lot of help to make
progress. Since they are not pursuing their own passion,
motivation for participation needs to be carefully considered
though which may consist of things like valuable contacts
for their future profession, potential job offers, or develop-
ing skills that are in demand. Recruiting materials should
lay these benefits out convincingly.
3. Open selection vs assignment:
Open selection of teams is
common for hackathons organized around themes (section
5.2) (e.g. particular civic issues, making use of specific
data sets, etc.) and for hackathons designed just for fun
or, for exposure to programming or prototype development
or entrepreneurship. Open selection is beneficial in the
sense that it allows participants to choose what they want
to work on in contrast to the strict assignment approach
that does not consider participants’ motivations, needs and
expectations. However, there are some costs associated with
open selection. For example, teams may not have members
with skills required to complete a desired project. This can
not only lead to frustrations during the hackathon but might
also negatively affect the probability of project continuation
after an event has ended [48]. A lack of diversity may also
inhibit a teamâ ˘
Zs ability to create innovative ideas and
solutions and again affect project continuation after an event
[48]. For this type of hackathons, it is often helpful to have
webinars and pointers to resources prior to the actual event.
This put participants in a much better position to formulate
realistic and on-target project ideas quickly. Another way
to alleviate this trade-off is having a balanced - hybrid -
approach which could provide participants with choices
which are closely related to their goals and expectations.
4. Large vs small teams:
Organizers should expect that even
if they try to have teams with reasonable size, teams may be
larger than the desirable size of 3 to 6 participants. Larger
teams are more likely to encounter coordination problems
compared to smaller teams. This problem might even be
more significant in teams consisting of members who have
not collaborated before because they do not have a com-
mon knowledge about each otherâ ˘
Zs skills and working
practices [56], which could lead to them not being able to
generate the outcomes they want. Hackathons with open
selection are more likely to suffer this problem as no mod-
eration is applied to the team formation. To minimize this
issue, the organizers should try to ensure teams have rea-
sonable size regardless of the team formation strategy they
Like any other event hackathons need an agenda that outlines
which activities will take place at which point in time. The
timing and outline of activities can profoundly affect the expe-
rience of participants. Organizers thus have to carefully plan
which activities they want to conduct during a hackathon for
it to be satisfying and engaging.
The agenda should be available at least a few days prior to a
hackathon to allow participants and other stakeholders (section
5.4) to familiarize themselves with it and make plans accord-
ingly. Certain activities in the agenda such as organizing
speakers and awards might require longer preparation periods
and should thus be started earlier during the preparation.
Organizers typically consult with mentors (section 5.4, [49])
and other stakeholders (section 5.4) such as sponsors and
domain experts to decide about which activities will take place
during a hackathon. Their timing then is commonly decided
by the organizers to create an organic flow during the event
Depending on the domain the hackathon takes place in (section
5.2), the goals (section 5.1) that organizers aim to reach or the
type of participants they aim to attract (section 5.5), organizers
might want to consider a variety of different activities during
an event. In the following we will outline common examples
for activities that organizers might want to consider. This list is
however by no means complete. Organizers can and should be
creative in developing specific activities that fit their particular
Hackathons typically
start with a brief welcoming address
During this address the organizers welcome participants and
lay out the organizational details of an event. These should
include means of reaching organizers, mentors and other par-
ticipants during a hackathon such as shared
channels, email lists or common document folders
as well
links to useful resources
related to e.g. the theme of the
event or to technologies that participants might use [79]. Orga-
nizers should also
introduce mentors
(section 5.4, [49]),
and judging criteria
(in the case of a competitive event (sec-
tion 5.3)), explain
and discuss which
expected from each team at the end of the hackathon. Such out-
comes can include but are not limited to source code or other
technical artifacts and presentations including videos and / or
slides. The welcoming address can also include a
e.g. by a sponsor that provides additional background
for the hackathon and sets the tone for the remainder of the
Afterwards participants commonly pitch ideas (section 5.8)
and form teams (section 5.9) before starting to work on their
During the hackathon organizers commonly also schedule a se-
ries of
during which teams report their progress,
discuss problems they are facing and outline their plans for
the time ahead [73, 25]. These checkpoints should be evenly
distributed along the timeline of a hackathon. It is e.g. typical
to have checkpoints at the beginning and the end of each day.
They provide a great opportunity for organizers and mentors
to get an overview of each teamâ ˘
Zs progress and decide
which team might need additional support. Checkpoints can
be organized in different ways. Some organizers may only
ask team leaders to present to organizers and mentors to not
break the teamsâ ˘
Z rhythm. Others prefer all participants
to be present during each checkpoint so that teams can share
experiences and learn from each other.
Organizers can also schedule additional
talks or training
during an event [25, 1]. These can be related to
using common or specialized technologies (section 5.6) that
participants might use, provide additional domain background,
or teach participants specific skills such as how to successfully
pitch their project at the end of the hackathon. Such talks or
training sessions can take place once or multiple times as part
of the main event. Some organizers even run them as parallel
tracks over the entire duration of the hackathon [74]. Such
talks should be closely related to the projects that teams are
working on during an event to have the desired effect [1].
Depending on the goal of an event, organizers might also orga-
social activities
that require participants to interact with
each other beyond the teams they work in. These can include
short games where participants have to form teams that are
different from those they work with during the hackathon and
compete for small prizes [35]. Such games can also ease the
tension of a hackathon and force participants to move around
which can help reduce stress and emphasize the fun aspect of
a hackathon. They are particularly useful for hackathons that
emphasize networking as a goal. They can however also be
frustrating because they can break the rhythm of participants
and distract them from their projects [83].
At the end of a hackathon it is common for teams to
their project
to the other teams, organizers, mentors and jury
(in the case of a competitive event). These presentations can
take different forms depending on the outcome outlined at the
beginning of the hackathon. They can be organized in the
form of pitches (as common in entrepreneurial events), demos
(as common in collegiate events) or project presentations (as
common in civic and corporate events). In a competitive event
these presentations are then followed by a deliberation of the
jury and the award ceremony.
It is generally
not advisable to plan too many activities
ing a hackathon because all of them will reduce the time teams
have to work on their projects (section 5.7) which after all will
be one of the main reasons for people to attend a hackathon.
It is advisable though to conduct a thorough opening address
as outlined before, schedule at least one checkpoint per day
and hold final presentations so that all teams can show what
they had been working on. The other outlined activities are op-
tional, and organizers need to decide which ones they consider
useful for their specific event.
1. Input and trainings vs social activities:
Organizers might
be inclined to provide as much input to participants as possi-
ble especially during a hackathon that is attended by partici-
pants who are not necessarily very familiar with the theme
of the event. Providing too much input during a hackathon
can however confuse and frustrate participants because it
breaks their rhythm, and they might feel inclined to change
their project idea repeatedly based on the input they received.
Moreover, some hackathon organizers might organize so-
cial activities for participants to network rather than work
on their projects all the time. Striking a suitable balance
here is crucial for a successful event. One possible way to
mitigate this trade-off could be to have a thematic keynote
at the beginning of an event, provide additional resources
for participants to refer to during an event and stagger social
activities around common breaks such as breakfast, lunch
and dinner.
2. Repeat activities vs single activities:
It can be advisable to
run the same talks or training sessions multiple times during
an event to allow participants to attend them at the point
in time that fits them best. This can however be difficult
to organize since it requires presenters and trainers to be
available during the entire duration of a hackathon. It might
also be advisable to focus input at the beginning of an event
so that participants can take maximum advantage of it. In
addition, organizers can provide access to useful resources
(e.g., instructional videos) that participants can access when
3. Voluntary vs mandatory checkpoints:
Checkpoints are a
great way for organizers and mentors to assess the progress
for each team and provide targeted support if necessary.
Attending checkpoints can however be tedious and time-
consuming for teams and affect their productivity, so they
might not be particularly inclined to attend. One way to deal
with this tradeoff is to assign mentors to one team or a group
of teams (section 5.11, [49]) and ask them to engage with
their teams on a regular basis. This allows them to detect
issues, inform the organizers, discuss strategies and provide
targeted support. This does, however, lose the advantage
of familiarizing the team members with the projects and
people on other teams.
Mentors are the first substantial point of contact for partici-
pating teams. They provide feedback, help them when they
have problems and guide them through the hackathon process.
Deciding on who to recruit as a mentor and developing a suit-
able mentoring strategy are thus crucial decisions for every
hackathon organizer.
It is important to develop a mentoring strategy and recruit
suitable mentors prior to a hackathon. Since they are likely
to be busy people and mentoring generally takes a substantial
chunk of their time, recruiting weeks or months in advance
is desirable. Mentoring itself typically takes place either over
the entire duration of a hackathon or at specific points during
the event. It can also continue after a hackathon has ended
(section 5.12).
Mentoring requires the collaboration of organizers, mentors
and participants. Organizers create a mentoring strategy, re-
cruit mentors and support them to execute the developed strat-
egy during and after a hackathon. Mentors support participat-
ing teams based on this strategy. The time commitment asked
of the mentors should be made very clear. For example, are
they expected to help participants before and/or after the event
itself? Are they expected to stay for the entire event, work in
shifts, or just be available at checkpoints (section 5.10)?
Prior to a hackathon, organizers have to develop a mentoring
strategy and recruit suitable individuals as mentors.
Mentoring strategy:
The most common strategy is for
mentors to provide individual
on-demand support
a hackathon based on the mentorâ ˘
Zs expertise. This is appro-
priate when the participants are generating their own projects
(section 5.8), and have the basic skills required to complete
them. On-demand mentors typically circulate among teams
and/or staff a help desk location where participants can re-
ceive assistance when needed. In addition, organizers often
set specific checkpoints during which mentors engage with
teams, ask for their current progress and provide targeted feed-
back. Alternatively, the event may have
dedicated mentors
that are assigned to an individual team [49]. This is useful
when the participants have significant skill deficiencies, or
donâ ˘
Zt have sufficient domain knowledge (section 5.6) to
define projects that fit within the hackathon theme (e.g., sci-
entific hackathons aimed at bringing neophytes into a field).
For either strategy, it is crucial that mentors are accessible to
teams when they need them.
If possible,
in-person mentoring
is highly desirable, although
it is possible to mentor, through technical means like Slack,
Zoom, Google Meet or other conferencing and messaging
Online mentoring
can be more difficult than an-
ticipated because of the limitations of tools, hardware, and
the difficulty of mentors being fully aware of the team con-
text. If using a platform like Slack, for example, it can be
difficult, time-consuming, and frustrating to describe prob-
lems and solutions in text. For conferencing tools like Zoom,
it may be difficult for all team members to see a mentor or
share the mentorâ ˘
Zs screen on the small screen of a laptop.
Moreover, a remote mentor will not have the ability to easily
see the confusion, skill deficiencies, or frustration that teams
may be experiencing. We thus strongly encourage in-person
mentoring whenever possible.
In addition, organizers might want to create mandatory
(section 5.10) during which teams present their
progress to mentors and to the other participating teams. Such
checkpoints allow for mentors and teams to detect deficiencies
that might have remained unnoticed and provide an opportu-
nity for broad feedback to all teams at once.
Another aspect to consider is whether to have
individual men-
supporting participants or to form
mentor teams
diverse backgrounds and expertise. Individual mentors allow
for a more flexible deployment while mentor teams can pro-
vide holistic feedback to participating teams on a broad range
of issues. Mentor teams also provide opportunities for less
experienced mentors to learn from their more experienced
peers. In the case that organizers decided for mentoring teams,
it is important to define them prior to or at the beginning of
the event.
Organizers also have to decide
how many mentors
to recruit
for their hackathon, and how many of them to deploy at spe-
cific points during the hackathon. This decision depends on
the number of participating teams, the availability of mentors
and other recruitment related aspects we will discuss in the
following. It also depends on the time of a hackathon since
mentor support is mostly needed during the early and late
phases of an event. As a rule of thumb using a minimal mentor
to participant ratio of 1 to 10 is feasible since teams commonly
have fewer than 10 participants.
Depending on the strategy, the organizers have
to decide how to recruit suitable mentors. Common aspects for
recruitment are the expertise of individuals related to the theme
or domain of the event, their technical proficiency related to the
technologies that participants might use during a hackathon,
their prior hackathon (mentoring) experience and their ability
to guide teams and support them to perform to the best of their
abilities. A good mentor [33, 60] thus possesses a combination
of domain, technical, project management and social skills.
To recruit suitable individuals, organizers also have to think
about potential benefits for mentors since they will invest a lot
of time and effort into mentoring. For example, mentors can
sometimes be drawn from tech companies who are hoping to
find new recruits among the participants, or from faculty or
postdocs looking for talented students.
After recruiting suitable individuals, organizers need to pro-
vide them with suggestions on how to mentor [24] teams based
on the previously decided mentoring strategy. This includes
potential activities before a hackathon such as training we-
binars as well as their availability during the event either on
site or online. It is crucial that mentors are available to teams
when they need them because the tight time constraints of
a hackathon do not allow teams to get stuck for long. Men-
tors will be particularly busy during the early and late phases
of a hackathon. During the early phases, teams commonly
need help scoping their project and technical support to get
started. During the late phases, everyone is scrambling to fix
last minute issues which can also lead to increased mentor
Mentors need to be introduced to the participants either before
or at the beginning of a hackathon. This introduction should
include how and when participants can engage with mentors
and which mentor can help them with specific topics or issues.
It is important to remind mentors that a hackathon is not for
them to push their own ideas. It is about helping teams to run
their project their way.
In some cases, mentoring can also continue after a hackathon
has ended (section 5.12) to e.g. facilitate the continuity of
learning or complete the development and integration of a
technical artifact. This depends however on the mutual in-
terest of participants, mentors and organizers and should be
discussed at best before the end of a hackathon.
1. Dedicated mentors vs on-demand mentors:
mentors - if sufficient in number and covering all the nec-
essary skills - can quickly address the needs of any team
while dedicated mentors can build a relationship with a
team and be more effective and efficient supporting them
and helping them define a project and acquire skills they
need. Supplying a larger hackathon with individual team
mentors can however prove to be challenging. Moreover,
dedicated mentors might be inclined to take over certain as-
pects of a project which might negatively affect a teamsâ ˘
motivation and give them an unfair advantage especially
during a competitive hackathon (section 5.3).
2. Mentor teams vs individual mentors:
One benefit of men-
toring teams is that participants can get comprehensive sup-
port related to multiple aspects of their project (domain,
technical advice, scoping, etc.) [1]. They are thus partic-
ularly useful when using checkpoints because these allow
for mentors to take time to address multiple potential issues
the team is facing at the same time. Mentor teams also
allow less experienced mentors to gain more experience
while working with more experienced peers. These bene-
fits however only materialize when the mentors in a team
have different expertise and experiences and forming teams
requires additional coordination effort by the organizers.
Individual mentors on the other hand can flexibly offer tar-
geted advice for teams in need. This does however require
teams to know who they should address for specific topics.
Individual mentoring also makes better use of each individ-
ual mentorâ ˘
Zs time but limit support to the expertise of
one mentor at a time only.
3. Mentor background:
Each mentor should at best be an
experienced project manager and domain expert with years
of technical experience in the field, lots of hackathons under
her/his belt and the ability to solve any problem a team
might have. Since this is not always possible, it is important
that organizers carefully select mentors with complementing
backgrounds and skills. Moreover, participants and mentors
need to be aware of the skills of other mentors, to be able
to refer participants to suitable mentors if needed. This
can be achieved by individually introducing mentors at the
beginning of a hackathon, creating short online profile or
by e.g. creating colored badges that indicate which kind
of support each individual mentor can provide. Moreover,
mentoring teams can mitigate this issue if they are formed
as discussed before.
4. Participant to mentor ratio:
At first glance it appears
that more mentors are always better since more mentors
can support more teams. This is however not true in all
circumstances since e.g. having many mentors that can
help with domain related questions and none that can help
with technical problems is not desirable. Moreover, more
mentors create more organizational overhead for organiz-
ers and might result in conflicting messages to participants
since different mentors might provide different advice to
teams based on their personal experience and background.
Starting with a mentor to participant ratio of 1 to 10 can
serve as a rule of thumb. It is however important for or-
ganizers still ask themselves is which expertise might be
required by participating teams at different points during a
hackathon. At the beginning of an event, participants will
mostly require help related to scoping their project while
later the required support will shift stronger towards domain
and technology related questions. Inexperienced teams may
also need help setting up their technical environment and
tools. When deciding for mentors it is thus important to
consider which expertise needs to be available to partici-
pants at which point during an event. Moreover, mentoring
can also be streamlined by using the previously discussed
5. Strict guidance vs mentors decide how to engage:
there are general mentoring [33] and hackathon mentoring
[60, 24] guidelines available online, it is important to note
that each hackathon is slightly different with different goals,
organizers, participants and mentoring requirements. Given
this highly context-dependent nature of hackathons, it might
be helpful under certain circumstances to advise mentors
about when and how to engage with their teams. Under
other circumstances organizers might also just let mentors
engage with teams at any point in any way they want. Both
extremes are not feasible. Providing strict guidance would
limit the ability â ˘
A¸S in particular of experienced mentors
A¸S to provide useful support. Providing no guidance might
affect the overall structure of a hackathon because mentors
might e.g. be inclined to contact their teams all the time thus
affecting their rhythm [1]. A hackathon is an intensive event
during which a lot of things happen over a short period of
time and mentors are crucial for an event to be successful.
Spreading information about who is responsible for and
knowledgeable about which topic and setting fixed check-
points to reel everyone back in can thus help to mitigate
this tradeoff. In general, however, the more competitive the
event the more it is necessary, in the name of fairness, to
provide relatively strict guidance and limits on what sort of
assistance mentors should provide.
Continuity planning
Organizers might want to run a hackathon just for everyone to
have a good time. They might however also want to organize
one for a purpose that extends beyond the conclusion of the
hackathon, for example to kickstart a community, teach partic-
ipants about new technologies or create innovative products
and services that will actually be brought to market (section
5.1). Continuity does not come for free though. It needs to be
an integral part of the hackathon planning process.
Continuity planning needs to start prior to the hackathon and
continues past the end of the event itself. In order to support
the continuity of hackathon outcomes, it is important that the
event is embedded into a larger strategy.
Organizers are responsible for developing and deploying a suit-
able strategy which includes communicating it to the partici-
pants of a hackathon. The planning and execution of that strat-
egy needs support by stakeholders (section 5.4) and hackathon
participants. Organizers should also be aware that only a few
or even none of the participants might share their continuity
vision. Participants might just come for the fun, or they might
have continuity plans of their own.
Before planning for continuity, organizers and potential
stakeholders need to think about
what the outcome of a
hackathon should be
and how the continuation of this out-
come can be supported. When thinking about hackathon out-
comes most people will think of hackathon projects that get
turned into startups [80]. The transformation of projects into
startups is however not the only potential outcome worthy of
being continued. Participants and/or organizers might also
aim to extend existing products or services, foster community
growth or spread knowledge about certain domains and tech-
nologies. Each of these outcomes might require a different
continuation strategy.
Based on the decision of which outcome should be continued,
hackathon organizers can then focus on
involving potential
. Such stakeholders can e.g. be companies if
the continuation goal is to develop a product or service, or
communities with related or complementary interests if the
goal is to start or grow a community. Stakeholders are vital for
continuity planning since they can provide background and do-
main knowledge for hackathon projects, support participants
to scope their projects, connect participants to key players
after a hackathon has ended, and provide access to learning
materials. It is also important for organizers to set suitable
expectations for stakeholders and participants since there is
only so much that can be achieved during the short timeframe
of a hackathon. This makes it all the more important to plan
for what can be done before, during (section 5.10) and after
an event to support continuation if that is the organizersâ ˘
goal. Examples for how organizers can support continuation is
to suggest for participants to scope their project (section 5.8)
before and start learning about technologies they might want
to use (section 5.6, [56, 50]).
During a hackathon organizers and stakeholders should
vide an environment for participants that fosters the de-
sired outcome
. If an important goal is for participants to have
the opportunity to establish lasting social bonds, the organiz-
ers should put an emphasis on activities that allow for them
to not only work on their projects in their teams but also to
get in contact with other participants. This could happen in
the form of games or other social activities. For participants
to develop a project that can be continued afterwards, they
should encourage participants to form a diverse team that has
the skills required to complete that project [49], work on a
strategy on how to spread the word about their project after the
hackathon [48] or to ensure that what they develop can be eas-
ily integrated into an existing code base [50]. Offering prizes
at an event (section 5.3) can also be an incentive for teams to
continue their projects but they only have a short-term effect
[48]. If the goal is to sustain participantsâ ˘
Z learning, e.g.
about technologies they used during the hackathon, it might
be useful to propose follow-up projects or connect them to
other individuals that aim to learn about the same technology.
Participants and organizers might have different continu-
ation goals
after an event [42]. Most participants might not
even be interested to continue working on their project after a
hackathon or their interest might fade quickly [48]. Since con-
tinuation requires extra work from participants, it is important
to identify and provide support to those who are interested in
continuation. One approach to achieve this is simply to ask
participants if they are interested in continuation and based on
their response provide support and guidance. This support can
A¸S depending on the planned outcome â ˘
A¸S come in the form
of startup funding, connecting participants to relevant parties
that can support them, help them find resources, or simply
contacting them from time to time after the hackathon to see
what happened and provide targeted support if needed.
In the following we will discuss strategies to support the con-
tinuity of different hackathon outcomes. From the descrip-
tions it should be clear that some outcomes might require
approaches and strategies that can negatively affect other out-
comes. For example, organizing social gatherings during a
hackathon might foster participant networking thus potentially
contributing to connection continuity. Such gatherings how-
ever eat into the participantsâ ˘
Z time to work which can
negatively affect their project outcome thus potentially jeopar-
dizing its continuation after the hackathon.
1. Project continuity:
The development of useful artifacts
that continue to be developed or that get used after a
hackathon is among the most common continuity goals.
This requires â ˘
A¸S as discussed before â ˘
A¸S a strong focus
on the project as such. It is advisable for teams to meet (sec-
tion 5.9) and refine their project idea (section 5.6) before the
event, validate it with potential stakeholders and then use
the hackathon to develop it to a stage that it can be shown to
stakeholders [50]. This means that the hackathon essentially
serves the purpose of the team focusing on the development
of a presentable prototype for their project. It also means
that participants should be encouraged to find team mem-
bers with diverse skill sets that fit the requirements of the
project [48] and that team members choose which aspect of
a project they work on predominantly based on their current
skills and not on what they want to learn about.
2. Connection continuity:
To support connection continu-
ity it is important to ensure that participants can stay in
touch after a hackathon. Technical means such as a shared
Slack channel, a shared Google Drive folder or similar tools
can be already used leading up to and during a hackathon.
These tools enable participants to quickly get on board and
start communicating and sharing information about them-
selves and their projects while the event is still going on.
Organizers should also consider creating opportunities for
participants to engage with other like-minded participants
outside their project teams during and after the hackathon
to foster continuous engagement after the hackathon has
ended (section 5.10). None of these will work, however,
unless the participants are substantially motivated to stay in
touch, perhaps to act as sounding board or social support, to
network opportunities such as jobs, or to provide each other
with needed expertise in various domains. It might also be
worthwhile to introduce teams to each other that worked on
similar projects which serve as a proxy for the connection
3. Learning continuity:
To foster learning continuity it is not
only important to provide learning material before, during
and after an event (section 5.6) as well as targeted talks and
mentoring during the event itself [1]. It is also important to
create continuing interests, e.g. through challenges during
and after a hackathon. Moreover, it is important to ensure
that participants think about their projects early [1] and
choose them based on what they want to learn rather than
what they already know.
The version of the planning kit in this report represents our
current state of knowledge, presented in a usable form. We
will continue improving it based on new insights from our
ongoing research work as well as experience and research re-
ported in literature. We are also currently experiencing a surge
of hackathon events organized online due to the world-wide
pandemic. While still partly applicable, the suggestions pro-
vided in this planning kit website are based on our experiences
related to collocated events. Organizing online hackathons
will certainly require additional considerations that are not
reflected here yet. We are currently studying these new and
upcoming online events and we will update the hackathon
planning kit based on our findings as soon as possible.
The authors gratefully acknowledge support by the Alfred P.
Sloan foundation, Microsoft Research, Microsoft Garage, the
Science Gateways Community Institute, the Space Telescope
Science Institute, Omnibond and Garage48. We would also
like to thank Christian Bird, Amy Cannon, Kevin Ellet, Linda
Bailey Hayden, Timothy Holston, Sudhakar Pamidighantam,
Rajesh Kalyanam, Audris Mockus, Je’aime Powell, Steve
Scallen, Kathryn Traxler, Nancy Wilkins-Diehr, Boyd Wil-
son, Mona Wong and the organizers, mentors and participants
of the various hackathons we studied, co-organized and sup-
[1] Abasi-Amefon Obot Affia, Alexander Nolte, and
Raimundas Matuleviˇ
cius. 2020. Developing and
Evaluating a Hackathon Approach to Foster Security
Learning. In Collaboration Technologies and Social
Computing. Springer.
[2] Pantelis Angelidis, Leslie Berman, Maria de la Luz
Casas-Perez, Leo Anthony Celi, George E Dafoulas,
Alon Dagan, Braiam Escobar, Diego M Lopez, Julieta
Noguez, Juan Sebastian Osorio-Valencia, and others.
2016. The hackathon model to spur innovation around
global mHealth. Journal of medical engineering &
technology 40, 7-8 (2016), 392–399.
[3] Arendt, Anthony and Huppenkothen, Daniela. 2020a.
HackWeek Toolkit.
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[4] Arendt, Anthony and Huppenkothen, Daniela. 2020b.
HackWeek Toolkit - Target Audience and Scoping to
Specific Communities.
HackWeek-Toolkit/#Objectives/Objectives- and-Goals/
#target-audience- and-scoping-to-specific-communities
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[5] Bastiaan Baccarne, Peter Mechant, Dimitri Schuurma,
Lieven De Marez, and Pieter Colpaert. 2014. Urban
socio-technical innovations with and by citizens.
Interdisciplinary Studies Journal 3, 4 (2014), 143.
[6] Eric Berger. 2017. Karachi Hackathon Takes on
Emergency Medicine Challenges: Solutions Pitched for
Resource-Poor Environments. Annals of Emergency
Medicine 69, 3 (2017), A17–A20.
[7] Gerard Briscoe. 2014. Digital innovation: The
hackathon phenomenon. Creativeworks London 6
(2014), 1–13.
[8] Irene-Angelica Chounta, Sven Manske, and Ulrich
Hoppe. 2017. ”From Making to Learning”: Introducing
Dev Camps as an Educational Paradigm for
Re-inventing Project-based Learning. International
Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education
14 (2017), 18.
[9] David Cobham, Bruce Hargrave, Kevin Jacques, Carl
Gowan, Jack Laurel, Scott Ringham, and others. 2017a.
From hackathon to student enterprise: an evaluation of
creating successful and sustainable student
entrepreneurial activity initiated by a university
hackathon. In 9th annual International Conference on
Education and New Learning Technologies.
[10] David Cobham, Kevin Jacques, Carl Gowan, Jack
Laurel, Scott Ringham, and others. 2017b. From appfest
to entrepreneurs: using a hackathon event to seed a
university student-led enterprise. In 11th annual
International Technology, Education and Development
Code for America. 2019. National Day of Civic Hacking.
national-day- of-civic-hacking-2019 [Online; accessed
[12] Code for America. 2020. Organizerâ ˘
Zs Playbook. [Online;
accessed 12-August-2020].
Code for Pittsburgh. 2020. Code for Pittsburgh Meetups.
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[14] Codecademy. 2020. Learn Python 3. 3
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[15] R Cameron Craddock, Daniel S Margulies, Pierre
Bellec, B Nolan Nichols, Sarael Alcauter, Fernando A
Barrios, Yves Burnod, Christopher J Cannistraci, Julien
Cohen-Adad, Benjamin De Leener, and others. 2016.
Brainhack: a collaborative workshop for the open
neuroscience community. GigaScience 5, 1 (2016), 16.
[16] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. 1996. Flow and the
psychology of discovery and invention. Vol. 56. New
York: Harper Collins.
[17] Database Center for Life Science. 2008. BioHackathon
2008. [Online; accessed
[18] Jeanette Falk Olesen and Kim Halskov. 2020. 10 Years
of Research With and On Hackathons. In Proceedings of
the 2020 ACM on Designing Interactive Systems
Conference. 1073–1088.
[19] Anna Filippova and Erik Trainer. 2017. Technical
Report for the 1st Workshop on Hacking and Making at
Time-Bounded Events. Technical Report CMU-ISR,
CMU-ISR-17-104 (2017).
[20] Anna Filippova, Erik Trainer, and James D Herbsleb.
2017. From diversity by numbers to diversity as process:
supporting inclusiveness in software development teams
with brainstorming. In 2017 IEEE/ACM 39th
International Conference on Software Engineering
(ICSE). IEEE, 152–163.
[21] Formidable Labs, Inc. 2020. Hackbox. [Online;
accessed 12-August-2020].
[22] Allan Fowler. 2016. Informal stem learning in game
jams, hackathons and game creation events. In
Proceedings of the International Conference on Game
Jams, Hackathons, and Game Creation Events. ACM,
[23] Kiev Gama, Breno Alencar, Filipe Calegario, André
Neves, and Pedro Alessio. 2018. A Hackathon
Methodology for Undergraduate Course Projects. In
2018 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE).
IEEE, 1–9.
[24] Garage48. 2017. How to mentor teams at a hackathon.
how-to- mentor-teams-at-a-hackathon [Online; accessed
[25] Garage48. 2019. Garage48 Cyber Security 2019. http:
// security-2019
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[26] Garage48. 2020. How does it work? works [Online; accessed
[27] Gottfried, Jon. 2014. Are Hackathon Prizes the Worst
Thing Since Moldy Sliced Bread? https://guide.mlh.
io/digital-hackathons/judging- and-submissions
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
Sarah Hartmann, Agnes Mainka, and Wolfgang G Stock.
2018. Innovation Contests: How to Engage Citizens in
Solving Urban Problems? In Enhancing Knowledge
Discovery and Innovation in the Digital Era. IGI Global,
[29] Scott Henderson. 2015. Getting the most out of
hackathons for social good. Volunteer Engagement 2.0:
Ideas and insights changing the world (2015), 182–194.
[30] Heston, Klare. 2020. How to Brainstorm. [Online; accessed
[31] Chinh Hoang, John Liu, Zubaid Bokhari, and Allen
Chan. 2016. IBM 2016 community hackathon. In
Proceedings of the 26th Annual International
Conference on Computer Science and Software
Engineering. IBM Corp., 331–332.
[32] Daniela Huppenkothen, Anthony Arendt, David W
Hogg, Karthik Ram, Jacob T VanderPlas, and Ariel
Rokem. 2018. Hack weeks as a model for data science
education and collaboration. Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences 115, 36 (2018), 8872–8877.
[33] Kerpen, Carrie. 2018. If You Want To Be A Great
Mentor Do These 5 Things.
5-things- great-mentors-do/ [Online; accessed
[34] Marko Komssi, Danielle Pichlis, Mikko Raatikainen,
Klas Kindström, and Janne Järvinen. 2015. What are
Hackathons for? IEEE Software 32, 5 (2015), 60–67.
Li, Lori. 2019. 11 Icebreaker Games for Work That Your
Team Will Love. https:
// icebreaker-games
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[36] Thomas James Lodato and Carl DiSalvo. 2016.
Issue-oriented hackathons as material participation. New
Media & Society 18, 4 (2016), 539–557.
Major League Hacking. 2019a. Judging & Submissions.
judging-and- submissions [Online; accessed
[38] Major League Hacking. 2019b. Swags & Prizes.
event-logistics/ordering- swags-and-prizes [Online;
accessed 12-August-2020].
[39] Major League Hacking. 2020a. Getting Sponsorship.
getting-sponsorship [Online; accessed
[40] Major League Hacking. 2020b. How to Promote Your
marketing-your- event/how-to-promote-your-event
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[41] Major League Hacking. 2020c. The MLH Hackathon
Organizer Guide. [Online;
accessed 12-August-2020].
[42] Maria Angelica Medina Angarita and Alexander Nolte.
2019. Does it matter why we hack? - Exploring the
impact of goal alignment in hackathons. In Proceedings
of 17th European Conference on Computer-Supported
Cooperative Work. European Society for Socially
Embedded Technologies (EUSSET).
[43] Maria Angelica Medina Angarita and Alexander Nolte.
2020. What do we know about hackathon outcomes and
how to support them? - A systematic literature review.
In Collaboration Technologies and Social Computing.
[44] Microsoft Garage. 2017. oneweek hackathon 2017.
// microsoftlife/
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[45] Steffen Möller, Enis Afgan, Michael Banck, Raoul JP
Bonnal, Timothy Booth, John Chilton, Peter JA Cock,
Markus Gumbel, Nomi Harris, Richard Holland, and
others. 2014. Community-driven development for
computational biology at Sprints, Hackathons and
Codefests. BMC bioinformatics 15, 14 (2014), S7.
Arnab Nandi and Meris Mandernach. 2016. Hackathons
as an informal learning platform. In Proceedings of the
47th ACM Technical Symposium on Computing Science
Education. ACM, 346–351.
[47] Alexander Nolte. 2019. Touched by the Hackathon: a
study on the connection between Hackathon participants
and start-up founders. In Proceedings of the 2nd ACM
SIGSOFT International Workshop on Software-Intensive
Business: Start-ups, Platforms, and Ecosystems. 31–36.
Alexander Nolte, Irene-Angelica Chounta, and James D
Herbsleb. 2020a. What Happens to All These Hackathon
Projects? - Identifying Factors to Promote Hackathon
Project Continuation. Proceedings of the ACM on
Human-Computer Interaction 4, CSCW2 (2020), 1–26.
[49] Alexander Nolte, Linda Bailey Hayden, and James D
Herbsleb. 2020b. How to Support Newcomers in
Scientific Hackathons - An Action Research Study on
Expert Mentoring. Proceedings of the ACM on
Human-Computer Interaction 4, CSCW1 (2020), 1–23.
[50] Alexander Nolte, Ei Pa Pa Pe-Than, Anna Filippova,
Christian Bird, Steve Scallen, and James D Herbsleb.
2018. You Hacked and Now What? -Exploring
Outcomes of a Corporate Hackathon. Proceedings of the
ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 2, CSCW (2018),
[51] Open Bioinformatics foundation. 2018. OBF
hackathons. [Online;
accessed 12-August-2020].
[52] Ei Pa Pa Pe Than, James Herbsleb, Alexander Nolte,
Elizabeth Gerber, Brittany Fiore-Gartland, Brad
Chapman, Aurelia Moser, and Nancy Wilkins-Diehr.
2018. The 2nd workshop on hacking and making at
time-bounded events: Current trends and next steps in
research and event design. In Extended Abstracts of the
2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing
Systems. 1–8.
[53] Ei Pa Pa Pe-Than and James D Herbsleb. 2019.
Understanding Hackathons for Science: Collaboration,
Affordances, and Outcomes. In International
Conference on Information. Springer, 27–37.
[54] Ei Pa Pa Pe-Than and Alexander Nolte. 2019. The 2nd
Workshop on Hacking and Making at Time-Bounded
Events. arXiv preprint arXiv:1901.02710 (2019).
[55] Ei Pa Pa Pe-Than, Alexander Nolte, Anna Filippova,
Christian Bird, Steve Scallen, and James D Herbsleb.
2019. Designing Corporate Hackathons With a Purpose:
The Future of Software Development. IEEE Software 36,
1 (2019), 15–22.
[56] Ei Pa Pa Pe-Than, Alexander Nolte, Anna Filippova,
Chris Bird, Steve Scallen, and James D. Herbsleb. 2020.
Corporate Hackathons, How and Why? A Multiple Case
Study of Motivation, Projects Proposal and Selection,
Goal Setting, Coordination, and Outcomes.
Human-Computer Interaction (2020).
[57] Jari Porras, Antti Knutas, Jouni Ikonen, Ari Happonen,
Jayden Khakurel, and Antti Herala. 2019. Code camps
and hackathons in education-literature review and
lessons learned. In Proceedings of the 52nd Hawaii
International Conference on System Sciences.
[58] Emily Porter, Chris Bopp, Elizabeth Gerber, and Amy
Voida. 2017. Reappropriating Hackathons: The
Production Work of the CHI4Good Day of Service. In
Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human
Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 810–814.
[59] Bard Rosell, Shiven Kumar, and John Shepherd. 2014.
Unleashing innovation through internal hackathons. In
Innovations in Technology Conference (InnoTek), 2014
IEEE. IEEE, 1–8.
[60] Savisaari, Olli. 2017. How to be the perfect mentor at a
hackathon? be-a-mentor
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[61] Schuurman, Robbin. 2019. Creating a Stakeholder
Analysis: How do you do that?
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[62] Tauberer, Joshua. 2017. How to run a successful
Hackathon. [Online; accessed
[63] Nick Taylor and Loraine Clarke. 2018. Everybody’s
Hacking: Participation and the Mainstreaming of
Hackathons. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference
on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 172.
[64] Thackery, L. 2017. Hackathon playbook.
hackathon-playbook- external.pdf [Online; accessed
The AstroHackWeek organizers. 2020. Astro hack week
[Online; accessed
[66] The Chi Hack Night organizers. 2020. Chi Hack Night. [Online;
accessed 12-August-2020].
[67] The DebCamp organizers. 2019. DebCamp. [Online; accessed
[68] The entrofy organizers. 2017. entrofy. [Online;
accessed 12-August-2020].
[69] The Geohackweek organizers. 2019. Geohackweek
[Online; accessed
[70] The global hack organizers. 2020. The global hack. [Online; accessed
[71] The Green Hackathon organizers. 2019. Green
Hackathon. [Online;
accessed 12-August-2020].
[72] The HackHPC organizers. 2020. HackHPC. [Online; accessed
[73] The Hack@PEARC organizers. 2019. SGCI
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[74] The OHBM Brainhack organizers. 2018. OHBM
Brainhack 2018.
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[75] The SheInnovates organizers. 2020. SheInnovates. [Online; accessed
[76] The SteelHacks organizers. 2020. SteelHacks. [Online; accessed
[77] The world of code hackathon organizers. 2019a. World
of code hackathon.
[Online; accessed 12-August-2020].
[78] The world of code hackathon organizers. 2019b. World
of code hackathon - schedule. [Online;
accessed 12-August-2020].
[79] The world of code hackathon organizers. 2019c. World
of code hackathon - tutorial. [Online;
accessed 12-August-2020].
[80] Thorsen, Anna. 2020. 50 Startups That Came From
50-startups- that-came-from-hackathons [Online;
accessed 12-August-2020].
[81] Erik H Trainer, Chalalai Chaihirunkarn, Arun
Kalyanasundaram, and James D Herbsleb. 2014.
Community code engagements: summer of code &
hackathons for community building in scientific
software. In Proceedings of the 18th International
Conference on Supporting Group Work. ACM, 111–121.
[82] Visser, Friso. 2018. 7 tricks to build the perfect
brainstorming question.
accessed 12-August-2020].
[83] vj, satish. 2016. Please donâ ˘
Zt organize â ˘
AŸfunâ ˘
activities at hackathons.
accessed 12-August-2020].
[84] Jorge Luis Zapico, Daniel Pargman, Hannes Ebner, and
Elina Eriksson. 2013. Hacking sustainability:
Broadening participation through green hackathons. In
Fourth International Symposium on End-User
Development. June 10-13, 2013, IT University of
Copenhagen, Denmark.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Time-based events, such as hackathons and codefests, have become a global phenomenon attracting thousands of participants to hundreds of events every year. While research on hackathons has grown considerably, there is still limited insight into what happens to hackathon projects after the event itself has ended. While case studies have provided rich descriptions of hackathons and their aftermath, we add to this literature a large-scale quantitative study of continuation across hackathons in a variety of domains. Our findings indicate that a considerable number of projects get continued after a hackathon has ended. Our results also suggest that short-and long-term continuation are different phenomena. While short-term continuation is associated with technical preparation, number of technologies used in a project and winning a hackathon, long-term continuation is predicated on skill diversity among team members, their technical capabilities in relationship to the technologies and their intention to expand the reach of a project. Moreover, we found intensive short-term activity to be associated with a lower likelihood of long-term project continuation.
Full-text available
Hackathons are time-bounded events where participants gather in teams to develop projects that interest them. Such events have been adopted in various domains to generate innovative solutions, foster learning, build and expand communities and to tackle civic and ecological issues. While research interest has also grown subsequently, most studies focus on singular events in specific domains. A systematic overview of the current state of the art is currently missing. Such an overview is however crucial to further study the hackathon phenomenon, understand its underlying mechanisms and develop support for hackathon organizers, in particular related to the sustainability of hackathon outcomes. This paper fills that gap by reporting on the results of a systematic literature review thus providing an overview of potential hackathon outcomes, design aspects and connections between them that have been addressed in prior work. Our findings also outline gaps in prior work e.g. related to the lack of work focusing on hackathon outcomes other than hackathon projects.
Full-text available
Time-bounded events such as hackathons have become a global phenomenon. Scientific communities in particular show growing interest in organizing them to attract newcomers and develop technical artifacts to expand their code base. Current hackathon approaches presume that participants have sufficient expertise to work on projects on their own. They only provide occasional support by domain experts serving as mentors which might not be sufficient for newcomers. Drawing from work on workplace and educational mentoring, we developed and evaluated an approach where each hackathon team is supported by a community member who serves in a mentor role that goes beyond providing occasional support. Evaluating this approach, we found that teams who took ownership of their projects, set achievable goals early while building social ties with their mentor and receiving learning-oriented support reported positive perceptions related to their project and an increased interest in the scientific community that organized the hackathon. Our work thus contributes to our understanding of mentoring in hackathons, an area which has not been extensively studied. It also proposes a feasible approach for scientific communities to attract and integrate newcomers which is crucial for their long-term survival.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Time-bounded events such as hackathons, code fests and others have become a global phenomenon. Entrepreneurial hackathons in particular have gained wide spread popularity because they come with the prospect to being the grounds where the next billion dollar enterprise is born. There is however limited insight into whether and how hackathons participants and start-up founders are connected beyond studies on singular events focusing on hackathons as a starting point for start-ups. To address this gap we conducted a study on a dataset covering 44 hackathons over three years and 489 start-ups in the North-Eastern European country of Estonia. Our findings indicate that hackathons are not always the start of an entrepreneurial endeavor but can also be useful through later stages as a means to develop future products, find future employees and others. The results presented in this paper are based on an initial analysis of this rich dataset and thus present the starting point of a larger study on the connection between the hackathon and start-up communities which is currently in planning.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Time-bounded events such as hackathons have become increasingly popular in recent years. During these events participants typically form teams, exercise fast prototype development, challenge themselves to innovate, practice new skills, collaborate with diverse team members, and compete against other teams. Hackathon organizers have a certain vision in mind about which outcome they would like to achieve and design the event based on this vision. Participants on the other hand do not necessarily share the same vision and come with their own goals and aspirations. While work in related fields suggests that it is important for goals of organizers and participants to align in order to achieve them this might be different in hackathons due to their unique setup. Drawing from literature we identified potential goals of organizers and participants and conducted a case study of three hackathons focusing on the alignment of goals between organizers and participants. Our findings indicate that the goals of organizers and participants did not align in all cases, that goal awareness on the part of the organizers appears may have a stronger impact on goal achievement and that hackathons appear to have inherent characteristics that can materialize even when not planned for.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Motivation: Code camps and hackathons been used in education for almost two decades. These approaches are usually intensive and for most times quite practical events for solving some real-world problems with various educational objectives. The objectives and structures of these events differ depending on the role of the event in curricula. Problem statement: Both code camps and hackathons been implemented in various ways, with varying success levels. As expected the implementation of the event varies considerably depending on the objectives set for the event, but that then leads to the difficulty and problem setting to understand what organizing of these events actually mean. For educational context, curricula have also its role in defining the targeted skills and competencies the events has to consider too. Approach: We applied a systematic literature review (SLR) to look at the various definitions and modes of these events. Whether it is called "code camp", or "hackathon", or anything else with the same basic meaning, we want to find out what skills and competencies these events emphasize, how they are used in Computer Science (CS) and Software Engineering (SE) education and what are the general structures of the actual arranged events. Contribution: It is aim of this SLR to i) identify various possible ways of implementing these intensive events, and ii) reflect the results to the lessons we have learned of almost two decades of various intensive code camps and hackathons we have been organizing building and participating into. Based on the results, we claim that there is tremendous potential of using these events in education and in the curriculum than how it has been applied so far.
Full-text available
Time bounded events such as hackathons, data dives, codefests, hack-days, sprints or edit-a-thons have in- creasingly gained attention from practitioners and researchers. Existing research, however, has mainly focused on the event itself, while potential outcomes of hackathons have received limited attention. Furthermore, most research around hackathons focuses on collegiate or civic events. Research around hackathons internal to tech companies, which are nearly ubiquitous, and present significant organizational, cultural, and managerial challenges, remains scarce. In this paper we address this gap by presenting findings from a case study of five teams which participated in a large scale corporate hackathon. Most team members voiced their intentions to continue the projects their worked on during the hackathon, but those whose projects did get continued were characterized by meticulous preparation, a focus on executing a shared vision during the hackathon, extended dissemination activities afterwards and a fit to existing product lines. Such teams were led by individuals who perceived the hackathon as an opportunity to bring their idea to life and advance their careers, and who recruited teams who had a strong interest in the idea and in learning the skills necessary to contribute efficiently. Our analysis also revealed that individual team members perceived hackathon participation to have positive effects on their career parts, networks and skill development.
Full-text available
In hackathons, small teams work together over a specified period of time to complete a project of interest. Hackathons have become increasingly popular as a means to surface and prototype innovative and creative ideas for products, but their impact often goes beyond product innovation. Based on our empirical studies of 10 hackathons held by scientific communities, a corporation, and universities as well as the review of published literature, we discuss that hackathons can be organized around goals such as enriching social networks, facilitating collaborative learning, and workforce development. We also discuss design choices that can scaffold the organization of hackathons and their trade-offs. Design choices include identifying a suitable mixture of attendee skills, the selection process for projects and teams, and whether to hold a competitive or collaborative event. Hackathons can achieve multiple goals if designed carefully.