Sitting at a computer may not be everyone's dream weekend, but nearly 100 Vancouver developers are paying to do it this weekend, offering their talents for free to help Vancouver non-profits at a "hackathon for social good."

What is a hackathon? It's a marathon of coding — and a term coined, it's claimed, by a Calgary company in the 90s.

The VanHacks event will see 90 web and mobile developers spending 28 hours at Hootsuite's Vancouver office, working in teams to build software for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank and Canuck Place Children's Hospice, among others.

Organizer Chris Hobbs said small teams will brainstorm solutions tonight, then jump into development tomorrow morning.

"At 10 a.m. you start hacking and just go solid until Sunday at 2 o'clock ... there's a lot of craziness by the end," said Hobbs, president of Two Tall Totems, a mobile software development company. 

Luckily there are showers at Hootsuite and food trucks parked outside for the event, he joked.

Programming code

The work of coders is so vast and ubiquitous that long-time coder, Bill Sourour thinks the profession should start to organize and create a standard code of ethics. (Shutterstock)

'We've been turning people away'

Each organization has come up with "challenges" that they're hoping the developers will work on during the hackathon, for example:

Whatever the developers create will be judged on Sunday, with cash prizes for the top three, said Hobbs.

One weekend may not yield finished, polished products, said Hobbs, but he's hoping the event will generate useful solutions — and possibly spark more development for non-profit groups.

"Maybe if ten of us get together over a month of weekends and just did something ... [we could] offer them huge amounts of return."

Participants are encouraged to make their final submissions open-source, so other organizations can use and build on what's created.

The event is organized by ViDIA, an association of 2000 iOS developers in Vancouver, and sold out in three days with participants paying $25 each.

"We've been turning people away, they really want to be part of this."


'Hackathons' can have developers focusing on any kind of digital problem. Last May, a community hackathon at CBC Montreal had developers workingon new ways to deliver digital news. (Sara DuBreuil/CBC)