Hackathons: A new source for tech recruiters

Technology is an ever-changing field so job recruiters must constantly be looking for new ways to find and test their workforce. One such source that has gained popularity in the recent years are hackathons. These new software arenas are a fun, exciting and intense way for technical recruiters to find employees who are truly passionate about their field.

What are hackathons
Hackathons -a title created by combining "hack" and "marathon"- are competitive contests between computer programmers, engineers, graphic designers or any person involved in the development of software. Participants divide into teams or work alone to see who can design the best software project based on a set of given criteria in a specified amount of time. Hackathons began in the late 90s but have been growing in popularity at an exponential rate. These intense programming challenges are now being held at tech conferences, by Silicon Valley companies and at the collegiate level.  Rewards provided for certain hackathon events include prize money, the cultivation of new skills and job opportunities.

Hackathons can be grueling. They can last hours or days. Descriptions of the events include hastily eaten meals and competitors passed out at their desk trying to squeeze in a couple moments of rest. Most competitions are fierce, with a large number of teams vying for a few prizes, but even if they don't win, they may catch the eye of a representative from a corporate sponsor or job recruiter. This could be one of many reasons that the number of public hackathons increases each year.

Tech-based competitions are on the rise
The New York Times recently published an article about the sudden boom in popularity hackathons have enjoyed. The article notes that the previous year had seen 40 intercollegiate hackathons​, but this year there are over 150 planned. In 2013, the Major League Hacking (MLH) organization was founded. It is the official student hackathon league that helps organize events for the over 15,000 developers, designers, and creators who compete in collegiate events each year.

Universities are not the only ones getting in on this new tech trend. The city of Las Vegas holds the Money 20/20 Hackathon​, which lasts 24 hours and has a $125,000 cash prize.  The AED (Architecture, Engineering and Design) Hackathon hosts events in major cities across the country to develop new solutions for public engineering projects. NASA will be holding the International Space Apps Challenge for competitors around the world to compete to design a new app for astronauts. 

Hackathons as a job recruitment tool
PayPal is one of the corporate sponsors of the Money 20/20 Hackathon. The company's chief technology officer James Barrese spoke with MSNBC about how these gatherings are a boon for both employers and potential candidates.

"They get to learn about our product and our company," Mr Baresse told MSNBC. "We get to see what they are able to produce."

The New York Times described a college competition produced by DirecTV and Microsoft. Students were challenged to "create the future of television" using Microsoft Kinect technology. The event lasted 36 hours, and the participants worked diligently around the clock. In the end, the student competitors had created projects that not only showed a firm grasp of the sponsor's products but a remarkable talent and enthusiasm for programming software as well.

Nick Quinlan is the commissioner of MLH and a former recruiter for SendGrid. He recalls to Business Insider a specific event where a hackathon served as a job interview. He had been talking with a programmer during an overnight competition and encouraged him to put in for a position at his company. When the programmer did apply, Quinlan explains that the night they spent coding together gave him more information than the average full screen or technical interview. Quinlan's story is just one of many that demonstrate how hackathons are an effective new tool for job recruiters.