It’s a Friday night in the downtown of a major city. Groups of friends are clustered around screens, clutching their electronic peripherals, frantically trying to outsmart their opponents in a quest to prove dominance. Empty pizza boxes and discarded beer bottles litter the floor as several of the team members open their second (or fifth) energy drink. While gaming enthusiasts across the country have played this scene out numerous times over the last several decades, there’s one big difference. The people in this room aren’t playing Madden, Fortnite, or NBA 2K- they’re writing code. Welcome to the hackathon.
The hackathon, which was formerly relegated to computer science students and top-level programmers, has officially entered the mainstream in 2018. In the simplest sense, a hackathon involves individuals or teams trying to accomplish a certain goal within a set amount of time. It could be to crack a code, but more recently, goals have centered around creating a program that serves a specific purpose. Hackathons can last anywhere from several hours to several days with participants often sleeping in shifts in sleeping bags.
Gamer Planet, a popular gaming café franchise, is just one of the many entertainment venues to try to bridge the gap between traditional video and PC gaming. Their most recent event, Code with Intent, is being billed as a gaming party and takes place on a Friday night. As of press time, the event had almost reached its cap.
While gaming still remains popular, there’s a significant crossover between the gaming community and the coding community. Over the last five years, the popularity of hackathons has grown with the mainstream tech for numerous reasons. Obviously, like video games, there is the thrill of competition and winning. Yet with hackathons, the monetary stakes are much higher. TechCrunch’s Disrupt Hackathon comes with $50,000 in prize money as well as the prestigious Disrupt Cup, which is like the Heisman trophies of coding. Additionally, winning teams have been able to segue their achievements into real-life jobs with major companies such as Microsoft, Salesforce, and Apple. (As much as gaming enthusiasts wish it were true, playing Madden is unlikely to land someone a job at a Fortune 500 company.)
Hackathons are also a great way for participants to feel that they are actually contributing to society as many hackathons have a social responsibility slant to their mission. With over ten major events coming up in New York City within the next year alone including the upcoming Source 360 Youth Hackathon, maybe more gamers will trade in NBA 2K in favor of preventing the next Y2K.