NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- While the word "hacker" may bring to mind black clothes-and-sunglass-wearing super geniuses breaking into computer systems, it's a far cry from the scene last Saturday, when 150 programmers gathered in New York City's Flatiron district to spend the weekend hacking software programs to build new applications and games. But in this case, hacking isn't a word to describe cyber-attacks against Sony (SNE), Nintendo and the U.S. government, but rather a way of solving a problem creatively using technical prowess.
Fueled by Amp Energy drink, mounds of Cheetos and virtually no sleep, this group of hackers is part of Game Hack Day, an event held at General Assembly, a co-working space that hosts programming and support services for start-ups. The day's goal: to spend the next 24 hours creating an innovative game built off the platform of other New York-based companies. Some of the programs that ended up winning include World of Fourcraft, a Risk-style game developed off Foursquare's mobile check in service, and Twetris, a mash-up of Tetris and Twitter. "I like computers and the community here is really positive," said Kathy Sun, an engineering student at Columbia University and participant at the hackathon who considers herself a "fledgling" hacker. "Instead of grumbling about how things are, we say, 'this sucks, let's go make something better and fix it.'" While companies like Facebook and Yahoo! ( YHOO) have held these so-called hackathons for external developers over the past several years, the trend has only recently caught on outside of Silicon Valley, thanks in large part to the burgeoning New York tech scene. HackNY, an organization co-founded by faculty from New York and Columbia Universities, hosts coding events for young hackers, as do other area start-ups like Foursquare and Gilt Groupe. NYHacker, a non-profit supporting New York's hacker culture, also sponsors hackathons, including Game Hack Day. Extreme Programming Game Hack Day was organized by John Britton, a 25-year old developer who first started building Web pages in 6th grade. In college, he ditched his plan of becoming a nuclear engineer and computer scientist, instead choosing to travel around China and Spain to learn different languages and customs. He then worked for several start-ups before being hired by Twilio, a company that helps power group texting apps. "A friend of mine called hackathons the 'extreme sport of programming,' which is a term I really like," he said. "The events give hackers a good name and show outsiders the type of cool stuff that can be created in a really short time."