What the Heck is Hackathon?


Did you know that Facebook’s Like button was conceived as part of a hackathon? Or that Twitter and GroupMe both originated in hackathons? Yes, many great companies and ideas have been born on through these special events, and I’m proud to introduce that Ustream hosting our first internal hackathon this week.

But what the heck is a hackathon exactly and why is it important for companies?

Well, it can take many forms, but in a nutshell, Hackathon is a 24-hour coding contest which brings developers, programmers and other creative people together to pitch, program, and present a prototype of a functioning application.

Hackathons are like American Idol for programmers. The marathon coding competition has emerged as the new forum for networking, learning, and developing new applications and ventures. The popularity of these events have exploded and more than 250 hackathons were held last year just in the US and it is on the rise in Europe as well. This new wave of innovation become a trend that has already spread beyond the conventional tech world and many startup businesses popped up as a result of these contests.


We, at Ustream, think that this is a fun event to foster creativity and stave off boredom, and it also gives engineers the freedom to work on things they love. This contest keeps people on their toes and challenges them to think and act both creatively and technically, while embodying company culture of ingenuity and creativity to think outside the box.

Hosting an internal hackathon is a great way to attract smart and passionate people to work on problems and to hack solutions that could solve problems and find new and better ways of doing things at our company. We believe that being surrounded by unique and innovative ideas helps develop new ones.

On Monday we kickstarted our first internal hackathon with a round of pitches. Thirteen “idea generators” presented 21 feasible ideas in three main categories:

  1. Ways to improve the life and work inside the office.
  2. New ways and fields to use Ustream’s service (mash-up ideas)
  3. Function or Service which can improve Ustream’s service

By Wednesday, ten teams have been formed and the brainstorming began. Even the founders of Ustream are a part of some groups. Gyula Fehér is one of the idea generators and Brad Hunstable is remotely supporting its team from the US office.

Hackers will get together on Friday morning and hack around the clock for a full 24 hours, putting all of their projects on the backburner, and work on ideas they had milling at the back of their heads. At the end, on Saturday everyone shows off whatever they put together and a qualified jury will decide the best development and give the winner a prize, which is still a well kept secret.

Stay tuned, as you’ll soon see some new features rolled out, as a result of our hackathon!