If you are an avid coder, chances are you have heard of a hackathon before. Hackathons have been around since the late ’90s but have recently seen a quickly growing interest by schools and organizations to help find the best talent and spark interest in the community. In this article, we are going to talk about some of the best, most famous hackathons in the world. These hackathons are famous for their prestige and for the crowds they bring in. So if you’re looking for the best hackathons, look no further!
What Is A Hackathon?
The term hackathon was coined when a group of developers from around the world met up in Calgary, Canada to develop the first IPv6 and IPSEC stacks completely integrated into an operating system. Since then, hackathons have grown into a broad term for events that involve a group of coders who gather, code, and often compete with each other for a specific duration of time. During the event, there is a specific goal that is attempted to be met via a piece of software or hardware. The projects that are built are typically called “hacks”.
There are many types of hackathons that focus on specific programming domains such as languages, frameworks, and application types. Hackathons often also center around a specific cause or purpose.
It is also common for hackathon projects to turn into very profitable and unique software. An example of this is Carousel, an app developed during the Startup Weekend Singapore event in 2012 that simplified the buying and selling process to get rid of household clutter. The startup made a whopping $70-80 million when closing their series C funding. Obviously, software built during hackathons can be both lucrative and provide a great benefit to society.
Apart from the primary focus on the competitive coding aspect of hackathons, there are usually guest speakers, workshops, and networking during the events as well.
Most Famous Hackathons
Now that we’re all clear on what exactly a hackathon is, we can summarize some of the most famous hackathons and why they deserve a place on this list.
Organizer: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Top Sponsors: Microsoft, Facebook, IBM
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Campus
Frequency, Date: Annually, Fall Semester
Official Website: HackMIT
HackMIT is a weekend-long hackathon that hosts thousands of students from around the world each year. It began in 2014 and has been hosted every year since. MIT is one of the top computer science schools in the world and because of this, they draw top talent to their hackathon event. Admission is free but in order to participate, you need to solve an admission puzzle. Doing so will guarantee you a spot at the event. So better get practicing!
The hackathon has participants grouped in teams and the goal is to create a hardware or software project that fulfills a purpose within one of their designated tracks. Tracks are provided to help focus the team’s efforts within specific domains. The top project within each track is then rewarded with a prize. In 2019, HackMIT gave out ~$31,000 in prizes. There were prizes for first second and third place, as well as prizes within all tracks. There was a total of 8 tracks: Assistive Tech, Urban Innovation, Fintech, Health Tech, Education, Entertainment, Dev Tools, Social Good.
Given MIT’s prestigious status in the computer science world and its large turnout, it definitely deserves to be on a list of the top famous hackathons.
Organizer: Jonathan Isenring, Ramsus Rothe, Setareh Gharibi
Top Sponsors: Microsoft, Migros, Zurich Insurance, Huawei, randstad, optiver
Location: Zürich, Switzerland
Frequency, Date: Annually, Various
Official Website: HackZurich
HackZurich is the largest and most prestigious hackathon in Europe. Every year, 600 international applicants from 85 different countries are chosen from an applicant pool of 55,000 to participate. The event runs annually for 40 consecutive hours and teams of 2-5 people work collaboratively to earn the top spot.
In 2021, the winning software of the HackZurich competition was Thunderstroke, an image processing algorithm and AI used to create a real-time live remote jam session between the users. The software required nothing except a webcam and computer. Instead, the users can create their own instruments through simple hand gestures. A pretty amazing piece of software to build in 40 hours!
You can check out all the past hack winners here for the best hackathon in Europe!
3. NASA International Space Apps Challenge
Top Sponsors: Australian/Brazilian/Canadian/European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, National Space Activities Commission of Argentina, National Space Science Agency of Bahrain, Paraguayan Space Agency, and South African National Space
Location: +320 various locations
Frequency, Date: Annually, October
Official Website: Nasa Space App Challenge
NASA International Space Apps Challenge Summary:
NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge is the largest global hackathon and one of the best hackathons in the world. The event is held annually at the beginning of October in over 320 various locations for 48 hours. The goal of the hackathon is to address real-world problems about space and earth using NASA’s free and open data.
In 2021, NASA held its 10th annual event and had 28,000 participants from 162 countries and territories. The participants completed a total of over 2,500 projects from 28 challenges. If you have some spare time to check out the challenges and their objectives, you can check them out here. Clicking a challenge will take you to the details, resources available, and teams who participated.
Organizer: University of Michigan
Top Sponsors: Google, Walmart
Location: Michigan, USA
Frequency, Date: Semi-Annual, October
Official Site: MHacks
MHacks is a hackathon run by the University of Michigan on a sem-annual basis. The event lasts for 36 hours and is open to students globally. The hackathon has sub-tracks in Social Justice, Professional, Educational, Social, and Medical that competitors can choose from.
The University of Michigan has one of the oldest and most respected computer science programs in the world. Making this hackathon one you wouldn’t want to miss! The hackathon draws top talent and produces some really cool projects.
The hackathon was started by a group of students at the university who got the idea to start a hackathon after attending a famous hackathon that we cover below!
Organizer: University of Pennsylvania
Top Sponsors: Bloomberg, Filecoin, HRT, ACV, Citadel
Frequency, Date: Yearly, Fall September
Official Site: PennApps
PennApps is a famous hackathon known as the world’s largest run by a college. Started by the University of Pennsylvania, this famous hackathon has since changed the way engineering students develop and showcase their skills. PennApps has spawned many college hackathons across America; many of which are on this list!
PennApps attracts some very talented hackers. In 2019, the winning team hacked together a piece of software that could recognize if something was a deep fake. You can check out all of their winners from their homepage here.
You can think of PennApps as the hackathon that started it all in the educational sector. For that reason, PennApps is definitely deserving to be attributed to this list of famous hackathons!
6. Hack The North
Organizer: University of Waterloo
Top Sponsors: Hootsuite, Loblaw Digital, Cockroach Labs, Facebook, Deloitte
Location: Waterloo Region, Canada
Frequency, Date: Annually, September
Official Site: Hack The North
Hack The North Summary:
Hack The North is Canadas largest hackathon; held by the University of Waterloo. The competition includes 3,000 top students from around the globe and is held over a 36 hour period. Hack The North has a philosophy to maintain an environment of inclusivity to their competitors. Fostering a safe space for people of all backgrounds to compete and pursue their dreams.
The University of Waterloo is a top school for mathematics and computer science in Canada. For that reason, it has become a target school for top companies like Google and Facebook to hire from. Given its high prestige in Canada, it is obvious that it would attract talented emerging developers and designers and create the best hackathon in Canada. You can check out some of the top hacks from Hack The North event here.
Organizer: University of California, co-founders Hadar Dor and Alvin Hsia
Top Sponsors: Oracle, Google, Captial One
Location: Santa Monica, United Stated
Frequency, Date: Various, Various
Official Website: LAHacks
LA Hacks Summary:
LA Hacks is the largest hackathon in Southern California. The event had an attendance of 250 people its first year and a staggering 1,500 competitors in its second! LAHacks hosted many developers from top colleges such as Stanford, UC Berkeley, USC, UC Davis, and Harvard attended. Since Los Angeles is such a huge tech hub in America, as a result, it makes sense why UCLA would be attracting such high-quality talent.
In 2021, the total prize pool was ~$41,00, giving away prizes such as Oculus Rifts, and Drones for first and second place. You can check out the tracks, speakers, and prizes for this year’s contest here. The hackathon has also had speakers from a wide range of top companies, such as Snapchat, Reddit, and Robinhood.