Cal Hacks: How to Organize a Hackathon

Cal Hacks: How to Organize a Hackathon

Fueled by energy drinks, spicy yogurt, and passion for invention and innovation, over 1500 hackers gathered on Veterans’ Day weekend for the third annual Cal Hacks. Cal Hacks is often revered for setting records for being one of the largest student hackathons annually. Ever wondered what it takes to run such a largescale event like Cal Hacks?

43 sponsors – Cal Hacks is 100% non-profit and funded by sponsors. Without their investment in the growing community of hackers, including potentially some of the future leaders of technology, this platform for young creators to discover their own limitless potential would not exist.

53 volunteers and 15 mentors – In the long run, quality always trumps quantity. The Cal Hacks volunteers and mentors were a passionate team of hard-working individuals. From the volunteers handling huge crowds for registration and food distribution, to our mentors maneuvering tirelessly through a packed stadium to assist hackers in need, this small team’s selfless dedication was a crucial part of the hackathon’s success. Without them, Cal Hacks simply wouldn’t be possible.

CITRIS and the CITRIS Foundry – Mentorship is universally important, and Cal Hacks is especially thankful for their partners and mentor organizations, especially CITRIS and the Banatao Institute and the CITRIS Foundry, for providing the team with the motivation and resources to strive for improvement every year.

Over 1500 hackers – From over four thousand applications, the team tried their best to choose a unique variety of students to participate in the 36-hour event. What resulted was the diverse crowd that stormed Cal Memorial Stadium from over one hundred different schools and five different countries (USA, Canada, UK, Japan, and Germany). Hackers spent these 36 hours absorbing knowledge at workshops, covering the stadium walls in “#IHackBecause” signs, and taking only a few power naps to strive towards creating and preparing a hack to present to judges. From a mind-controlled Tesla, to a WebVR-Playground, to a robotic sketch artist, the hacks our hackers came up with within a small amount of time were absolutely ingenious. (Click here for a full list of winners)

Cal Hacks: How to Organize a Hackathon. Photo by Sean Victory.
Photo by Sean Victory

24 directors – For many of the directors of Cal Hacks, the past year had been spent in preparation and anticipation for the huge event. Finally seeing a stadium full of hackers after a year of never-ending brainstorming and meticulous planning was absolutely gratifying. It’s a feeling that the team will never forget, and they’re tremendously grateful to everybody who helped make it happen. From the Cal Hacks team to all of you: thank you, thank you, THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts!

Cal Hacks: How to Organize a Hackathon. Photo by Mike Yu
Photo by Mike Yu

To view memories of Cal Hacks 3.0 and receive updates bout our next event, be sure to check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or

Top photo credit: Sean Victory