Codefests (aka Hackathons): What are they and why do them?

It’s about rapid innovation with software, and a South African version even produced a solution that could stop patients dying in long hospital queues.

One of the principles of Agile software development is to rapidly create working software rather than wait for detailed designs. The quicker you can prototype a concept, the faster you create a feedback loop between the development team and the product owners. The objective of a codefest is to build prototypes that demonstrate how a fully developed and comprehensively designed system could work. [paragraph 1 of 5]

The first codefest happened in 1999 and was attended by 10 developers, the largest was in 2013 at the University of Michigan and attended by over 1200. Even the Whitehouse has had it’s event where 21 coders tested the API for the We The People platform which creates petitions for US citizens. A controversial Salesforce.com event paid out $1m to the winners which was eventually disputed when it was found that team had been building their app a year beforehand. [2/5]

FNB, one of the 4 largest banks in South Africa held it’s first codefest in March 2015 which was attended by 150 developers. Mo Hassem, the bank’s CIO attributed the success of the event to the bank’s “drive towards excellence in innovation” and congratulated the winning team for creating a virtual credit card. This would reduce credit card fraud and increase customer convenience in making payments through secure online facilities. [3/5]

Other events in South Africa such as Hack Jozi is supported by the Johannesburg city council and incentivises innovative solutions to community issues. One of the 10 finalists for the $80000 prize have developed a mobile booking system for patients of government hospitals. This will reduce agonising queue times which sometimes lead to patients dying before they see a doctor. [4/5]

Ultimately a codefest is an intensely creative and collaborative event for people who love writing code to do so in an environment that helps them do it even better. Facebook’s “like” button came out of a codefest as did an initial version of Gmail and also GroupMe which was eventually acquired by Skype for $50m. If you love coding, find a codefest to join; you could win prizes, have a lot of fun, uphold democracy and even save someone’s life. [5/5]

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