Hackathons: Everything you need to know

Samantha Nadler, Staff Writer

On Friday, April 9, students from across Long Island will compete in the second Kidoyo-hosted hackathon. Many people in the computer science field know what a hackathon is, but so many people are new to the concept of hackathons and do not know much about what they are.

Through virtual team meetings and coding practice, the students are worked tirelessly to prepare for the big event held on the Friday after spring break.


I have participated in last year’s hackathon, in which the Mepham-Kennedy team came in 4th place out of 13 teams. The environment of last year’s hackathon was unlike anything I have ever participated in, but this year the hackathon will look a little different. So I reached out to one of Mepham’s math and computer science teachers, Mr. Vogel, to gain more knowledge regarding the hackathon. I wanted the inside scoop about how the hackathon will change due to COVID.


What is a hackathon?

Mr. Vogel: “A hackathon is a competition where students design various games, puzzles, and various programs to complete an assigned task. Students are in teams and compete against teams from other schools.”


Don’t let the name fool you: a hackathon is not a hacking competition in which participants illegally code programs. Rather, it is a creative problem-solving competition in which participants use their knowledge in coding to write the best programs. Participants may use any coding language, but most commonly they use block-coding languages like Scratch and text-based programming languages such as Python to solve problems.


How does a hackathon usually run?

Mr. Vogel: “It’s usually run in person with teams grouped together looking at a large map of all the territories that can be conquered with the best programs.”


One can think of the hackathon like the board game Risk, which can be compared to this exciting event. A map has territories which students earn by coding the best program that meets the given criteria for that specific task. However, they can have their territories captured by teams with better programs. The hackathon is judged by mentors from Long Island-based coding company Kidoyo.


Students work for three hours to code, but they may use a lunch break halfway through the event. A brief award ceremony follows the coding portion of the day where teams receive prizes for creating the best team logo and banner and for taking over the most territories on the board. The winning team receives a trophy, with the top three teams receiving t-shirts. Every team comes back from the competition with some prize, such as a sticker or souvenir poker chips.


What changes have happened to the format of this year’s hackathon due to COVID?

Mr. Vogel: “It’s being run virtually with each team at their own school, and the whole thing is being live-streamed.”


Previously the hackathon would be held at a central location, such as last year’s event being held at Bellmore-Merrick’s central office building, Brookside. Teams from across Long Island would arrive at the central location to participate in the hackathon, but COVID has limited the number of people who can gather at a certain location. As a result, the hackathon is being held remotely, and teams join a Zoom call from a location at their school. This year, the Mepham team met in the library instead of leaving for another location.


The hackathon was livestreamed on Kidoyo’s YouTube page the day of the event. Viewers were able to get a glimpse of the action that happens during the hackathon and learned new information about the event.


Mr. Vogel concluded by telling me: “It’s a lot of fun and gives students an outlet for creative problem solving!” The creativity skills students get out of the event can help them solve problems in the long run. The Mepham Hackathon team tied for third place out of thirteen teams, only placing behind the Eastport-South Manor and Mineola teams.