Try 1 month for 99¢

Participants in the Madworks Cryptocurrency Hackathon will receive some Dogecoins to learn how cryptocurrency works.

Whether you're well-versed in the ways of Bitcoin or you're a fan of the "Doge" meme and can't quite believe it inspired a form of digital currency, the Cryptocurrency Hackathon at the Madworks Coworking Space is the occasion to dig deeper.

The Hackathon will run similar to a Startup Weekend, said Brian Samson, who is overseeing the event. Rather than focusing on jump-starting a business, though, the goal of participants will be to create and complete a tech project.

The winner of the Hackathon will receive one bitcoin — valued currently at about $850. 

"All day long, we'll be focused on making cool stuff — writing software, doing a project," Samson said.

The event is scheduled to run from 8 a.m.-9 p.m. on Feb. 15, at the Madworks Coworking Space, 550 S. Rosa Road, Suite 225. The entry fee is $5 (or 0.005887 BTC), which includes registration, some Dogecoins and breakfast, lunch and dinner. Participants can pay via credit card, or with Bitcoin, Dogecoin or Litecoin.

The Hackathon is designed for people who know how to write code and are interested in learning more about cryptocurrency, Samson said. But for people who aren't well-versed in programming, there's another option.

After announcing the event, interest grew among non-coders who had a general interest in learning more about cryptocurrency. Because of that, the organizers decided to host an "unconference" that will run parallel to the Hackathon. 

"While people are writing code and hacking on stuff, we’re going to have some of the other conference rooms, giving little talks," Samson said. "An intro to what is cryptocurrency, how does it work."

The first cryptocurrency to begin trading was Bitcoin, in 2009. The digital exchange medium has grown in popularity in recent years, with a number of "altcoins" — some serious, like Litecoin, and some based on jokes, like Dogecoin and the recently shut-down Coinye West — entering the market.

But even the joke-coins can have some serious real-word impact. Although Dogecoin was inspired by a Shiba Inu who thinks in Comic Sans, it's also sending athletes from India and Jamaica to the Olympics. An effort to fund the Jamaican bobsleigh team's travel expenses surpassed its $30,000 goal in one day, with more than 26 million DOGE donations. A separate effort netted more than $6,000 and will send two skiers from India to the games.

As Madison as it gets: Get Cap Times' highlights sent daily to your inbox

"It’s really interesting on a tech level, but there’s also a financial thing that’s really interesting, too, that’s unrelated," Samson said. "What is it? Why is it worth $800? We’re hoping to have some fun discussions about that."

Why is it worth $850? That's what people will pay for that combination of 1s and 0s. That, and the relative newness of it, means it's also a volatile form of currency.

Some countries, including China and Estonia, have cracked down on it, in some cases judging it to be a "Ponzi scheme." U.S. economists are divided, but the country is considered to be friendly to Bitcoin.

The technological and economic aspects of the currency will be discussed throughout the day at the Hackathon. 

"I don’t think it’s going to replace cash anytime soon," Samson said. "But I wrote a website that (allows us to) accept Bitcoin and Dogecoin to register for the Hackathon itself and I learned a lot more about them. I don’t have to type in my credit card anywhere … it's a really easy and seamless way to pay. I think as technology for payments, whether or not somebody comes up with a different coin that’s backed by the dollar, that's not so volatile — I think the technology is going to be around for the foreseeable future."

Programmers who are planning to compete should bring a laptop and their ideas, Samson said. Anyone who wants to show up and talk, should bring an open mind and any questions they have about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency.

Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.