Meridian Star

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February 18, 2014

Computer whizzes brainstorm for cash at hackathons

(Continued)

SAN JOSE —

During these sorts of tech-heavy, weekend competitions, teams of computer programmers, software engineers and developers huddle over monitors for hours, working up new apps for smartphones or other devices. A panel of judges selects winners, and prizes are usually awarded.

"Developers are a rare breed where they get paid a lot of money to do this job during the week, and they enjoy it so much they want to do it more on the weekend," said Jon Gotfriend, who's been going to hackathons for more than three years.

As such events have become more popular, a set of rules has coalesced. Teams are typically made up of a handful of people. Designs, ideas and even mock-ups can be worked on in advance, but everyone starts writing code at the same time. And teams own whatever they come up with.

The opening stages of a hackathon can be exciting as challenges, prizes, teams and judges are introduced. But within hours there's a quiet buzz and lots of keyboard clicking as programmers make their ideas a reality.

Participants arrive with sleeping bags, deodorant, toothbrushes, pillows and laptops. By morning's wee hours, pizza, energy drinks and bean bag chairs are in hot demand. Candy of all kinds is consumed, and by the time the buzzer goes off after 24 or 48 hours, most participants are disheveled and a little loopy.

Like the tech industry itself, hackathon participants are mostly men. But some organizers are trying to change that.

There was an unusually high number of women at a hackathon at the AT&T Developer Summit in Las Vegas last month after organizers promised $10,000 extra to any team with a majority of females. It worked; both winning teams were led by women. But in every other way, the event was typical.

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