NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Throw a bunch of programmers into a room with laptops, Red Bull and pizza for a hours at a stretch and what do you get?
Creative breakthroughs. That's the idea behind "hackathons," where groups of engineers band together for marathon coding sessions. The term "hacking" tends to come with negative connotations, but in the tech world, it simply means cranking out code for a cause.
"Hacking really doesn't mean I'm going to break into a system and steal people's identities," says Gilt Groupe engineer Mark Wunsch. "It means we're going to try and come up with clever solutions for problems."
Hackathons are typically off-the-cuff events with loose guiding goals, and open-source developers are among their biggest evangelists. But lately, companies have been adopting the idea.
Online fashion retailer Gilt Groupe recently held its second hackathon to invent and improve on features for its website. Armed with coffee and snacks, staff engineers set up shop at 11 a.m. on a Thursday morning and prepared to spend 24 straight hours coding.
"It gave us a chance to actually focus on one thing," says developer Evan Maloney. "There's something else that happens with the creative process when you've been awake for a while, where you start to have ideas that you may not necessarily have if you had your wits about you."
A full day later -- noticeably more exhausted -- the group presented their creations. One new app they created detects the color of any object you point your smartphone at. It will then show everything the website has for sale in that color.
Gilt Group isn't the only company using hackathons to spark corporate creativity. Facebook makes them a regular feature of its product development process.
"Hacking is a central part of Facebook's culture," the company wrote on its blog in December. "Whether we're building the next big product at one of our Hackathons or creating a smarter search algorithm, we're always hacking to find a better way of doing things."
Location-based network Foursquare recently hosted its first Hackathon. More than 150 developers spent a day building new features on top of the company's API. Fifteen hours -- plus 25 pizzas and 300 cups of coffee later -- engineers came up with 39 apps built on Foursquare's infrastructure.
"It definitely helps kickstart creativity," says programmer Jonathan Wegener, who took a break from working on his own venture -- part of startup accelerator TechStars' first New York cohort -- to participate.
In one day, Wegener created a feature for Foursquare users called 4squareand7yearsago, which sends users a daily history of their check-ins a year ago.
Even Carl Icahn, one of President-elect Donald Trump's biggest cheerleaders on Wall Street, thinks the post-election exuberance in the stock market has gotten a bit out of hand. More
Republican leaders keep saying Obamacare is hurting the economy and killing jobs, but there's scant evidence for it. In fact, a number of studies show that the economy has been growing. More
Facebook admits it messed up more ad metrics than previously thought, potentially eroding its trust and relationship with marketers and publishers. More
In 1998, Ntsiki Biyela won a scholarship to study wine making. Now she's about to launch her own brand. More
The Los Angeles city attorney is suing four major retailers over claims that they deliberately inflated the original price on some items that misled customers into thinking they were getting a better deal. More