There is a lot of talk in the media these days about “hackathons” or just “hacking” in general. But what is a “hackathon”? What is “hacking”? The original definition of hacking had a negative connotation; these were computer programming trying to be malicious or break top secret code and cause chaos in digital systems. This is still true today; there are many recent examples of hacking attempts (and successes!), although they are now often labelled under the umbrella of “cyber-attacks”. But hacking in a positive sense actually means doing the same thing, but for a positive outcome. And it is no longer the domain of computer programmers only.
A great quote from Rohan Gunatillake, Culture Hack Scotland, shows how hackathons (or hack events) can be used in different contexts:
‘Hack events are less of a factory and more of a gym, a playground and a nightclub. It’s a gym since it builds our prototyping and risk-taking muscles, a playground since it gives us a low-risk environment to try some things that are radically new and it’s a nightclub since it allows us to dance with a lot of different people we may not have otherwise met. And who knows, we may just meet the love of our lives.’
Hackathons bring people from various backgrounds together to work on and try and solve a problem. It is really a big excuse to get together and work collaboratively on a problem. And this works across different parts of the university and local community. This past year has seen hackathons around subjects like Ebola, Stephen Fry, energy, digital tech, digital health and Ada Lovelace. . . and there are many more in the pipeline.