DW Akademie organizes hackathons around the world for its media development projects. Yulia Alexseeva offers some key do's and don'ts for organizers.
The first impression you get looking around the room is a sobering one: worn out faces, empty coffee cups, papers full of drawings and laptops spread around. This is what creative work is supposed to look like?
It's July in Chisnau, Moldova's capital and DW Akademie is holding a hackathon. The challenge for those taking part is how to convey media and information literacy (MIL) in a playful way.
Forty participants have come together for 72 hours of intensive teamwork to find ways to advance the country's media literacy. DW Akademie experts and Olga Kisselmann from DW's Research and Cooperation Projects team are on site as mentors.
A second glance is reassuring. The participants might look exhausted after three days of intensive work but their eyes are sparkling: they’ve come a lot closer to finding solutions.
Ten teams were competing in the hackathon and three have been declared winners. One of those teams has been working on "Hype Mode Media" – a software module that transforms key words found in articles on media literacy into emoticons to make the texts more attractive to social media users. The team behind "InstaNews Builders" aims to create a platform with templates for transforming news into Instagram Stories. The third team, "PythonPlato", is focusing on developing a news and games website for children between the ages of six and twelve.
All three teams will go on to develop prototypes. DW Akademie will continue to mentor them so that their products are ready in time for the Chisinau Exposition for Youth Media in March 2019.
Proof that ideas for successful products can be hatched at a hackathon is the "Trolles" app, says the team who developed it. They had taken part in a DW Akademie MIL hackathon in 2016. Their app can, for example, recognize fake profiles on social media, and it's become a popular app in Moldova.
Much more than a LAN-Party
A hackathon (a term derived from the words "hack" and "marathon") is an event that brings information technology experts together to tackle a problem with their skills and know-how. Hackathons in essence are platforms for brainstorming and creative problem-solving. Experts typically come from the fields of software development, graphic design and project management.
DW Akademie sees hackathons, like the ones in Moldova, primarily as opportunities for experts to come together and form new networks. Hackathons usually last for a few days and can be organized as open networking events, or as closed mentoring sessions as in Moldova, or combined with workshops that run simultaneously.
How to organize a successful hackathon
There is no one-size-fits-all model for organizing a hackathon because groups and topics vary. But DW Akademie has some tips that can help determine whether an event is successful or not.
1. Set realistic expectations and be precise.
2. It's all about teamwork.
3. Don't rush!
4. Keep an overview and stay on schedule.
What not to do
The biggest blunder is to think that all teams will develop a viable solution. This event is just a pit-stop and there's still a long journey ahead. Unrealistic pressure won’t help. And remember:
5. Don't underestimate the selection of mentors.
6. Don't overdo it with accompanying workshops.
7. Money's important but not the priority
8. Don't call the event a hackathon just because it sounds good.
If you want to advance innovative software ideas with new approaches to working, a (well-organized) hackathon is a great format for bringing together people from various fields. Good luck in organizing your own!