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By Nancy Hopkins on

What the heck is Hack Manchester?

What the heck is a hackathon? We chat coding competitions with HackManchester's Claire Foster.

Today on the blog we’re chatting to Claire McDonald, Director of  HAC100. Claire and her team run the ever popular HackManchester and HackManchester Junior events as part of Manchester Science Festival.

What IS a Hackathon?

Ok, first things first. We prefer to call our events ‘coding competitions’. Hacking has some negative associations!

It’s an event where people can exercise their software programming skills in a competitive way. Our adult Hackathon lasts for 24 hours, so it’s also a great opportunity to drink a bucketload of coffee.

Coding competitions are excellent places for #freeswag

Is it legal?

Put it this way, Greater Manchester Police had to get involved in some of our previous events…


No, not like that! GMP thought one of the creations from our 2015 event was hilarious, and a great way of looking at a problem. The creation was GAWI (get away with it), a free, anonymous and highly tongue-in-cheek creation that used Police Open Data.

GAWI was an app aimed at criminals who could explore unsolved crime stats in their local area, conviction rates by geographical location, and even a weather forecast element for optimal mischief making.

In 2016 Greater Manchester Police supported our event by putting a challenge to us to help with missing persons. GMP gave the contestants 32,000 records of missing persons (sanitised and anonymised) and teams had to come up with ideas to either resolve or prevent cases.

Top tip from last year’s event

How do businesses get involved?

Businesses are encouraged to send teams to represent their technical prowess. We have a best company award with a trophy and kudos up for grabs.

Do I need to be able to code to take part?

For our senior events it does help. Some competitors actually use the weekend to learn to code. It’s certainly an inspirational atmosphere!

What other skills might I need?

Communication, time management, innovation and problem solving.

Do I need to stay for 24 hours?

It’s actually 25 hours as the clocks go back! We always encourage competitors to take regular breaks from their chair and their screens. Drinking plenty of water and getting some sleep is a sensible way to approach the competition.

Around 08.00 we usually hear screams of despair as teams find what their team mate broke whilst they slept.

With great power, comes a great hi viz

What types of challenges are set?

Some are fun, some are serious. Always interesting. Some may be a unique problem to the organisation, like our bio-timing challenge.

Some are using a product provided by the sponsor, like Clockwork SMS. Others may be data, for example the Greater Manchester Police Open Data.

Will you win the coveted Best in Show?

Do you get any help with the challenges?

Our judges visit each team throughout the competition. They will provide guidance and feedback. The best bit of advice we most often hear is encouraging competitors to reduce the scope of their idea. 25 hours isn’t as long as it sounds!

Can I come even if I’m not taking part?

We have tickets for our amazing awards show on the Sunday evening where you can eat, drink and see all the amazing things that were created, without staying up all night.

Our events aren’t really spectator friendly, so we ask that only those participating join in.

How do I book a place?

The event is now sold out, but you can still book tickets for the awards ceremony. See you there!

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