Hack Days and Code-a-thons

What is a hack day or code-a-thon?

A hack day or code-a-thon is an event that brings together software developers, entrepreneurs, researchers, and anyone interested in using data and technology to solve problems. Hack days are frequently organized by software companies to encourage spontaneous development of new product ideas.

Why plan a hack day or code-a-thon?

Organizing a hack day or code-a-thon can be a great way to build a community of developers and other interested parties that want to use your agency’s data. An event can spur new ideas and innovations based on information and data your agency already produces.

What to consider when planning a hack day or code-a-thon

It’s important to consider the following when planning a hack day or code-a-thon:

  • Purpose. Be sure to clearly define the purpose of the event and provide the resources to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Documentation. Understand that many hack day participants may not be familiar with your agency or goals, so they will benefit from clear documentation explaining the purpose of your agency, your mission, the problems you seek to solve, and the resources you are providing for them to work with.
  • Flexibility. While you should have a clear purpose, being flexible may be critical to success. Remember that the purpose of these events is to bring people together to discover new ideas and solutions. Participants may come up with a new idea that wasn’t the original desired outcome, but may be even more valuable.

  • Location. The location should be accessible to the public. If you choose to hold the event in a government building, make sure to describe the security process for outside visitors and list all documentation needed for entry. If the security process is cumbersome, you may want to consider another venue. The actual space for the event should be large enough for people to spread out and work in groups. Make sure there are enough tables, chairs, and outlets for participants to plug in electronic devices, such as laptops.
  • Internet access. Make sure there is reliable and robust Internet access that can handle multiple people at once. If holding the event in a government building, make sure that outside visitors can access the Internet from personal computers. 

Examples of government sponsored hack days and code-a-thons

  • 1.USA.gov Hack Day is a nationwide event organized by USA.gov in July 2011 to encourage software developers, entrepreneurs, and curious citizens to engage with the data produced by 1.USA.gov. The hack day will be hosted by USA.gov in Washington, D.C., Measured Voice in San Diego, bitly in New York City, and SimpleGeo in San Francisco.
  • APIs and datasets made available to the publice by the Federal Communications Commission were used during developers day in November 2010 with the goal of making software. Over 100 developers attended the event and three apps were created.
  • Health 2.0’s Developer Challenge Code-a-thons occur over the course of one day and bring together developers, designers, and raw data sets to build exciting new applications and tools for improved health care. The Health 2.0 Developer Challenge is supported by HHS, but run by Health 2.0, a private company.
  • Random Hacks of Kindness is a community of innovation focused on developing practical open-source solutions to disaster risk management and climate change adaptation challenges. It was founded in 2009 as a partnership between Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA, and the World Bank. The Random Hacks of Kindness community grew rapidly in 2010, with volunteer-organized events taking place in 26 cities around the globe, with over 2,000 registrants and 120 distinct projects.


Page Reviewed/Updated: July 15, 2011 

Content Lead: Rezaur Rahman and Gray Brooks
Page Reviewed/Updated: July 15, 2011

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