Jobs which never existed 20 years ago are now a few of the fastest growing career opportunities. Similarly, mini contests which were merely never thought of 20 years ago are now huge incubators for innovation that involve millions of participants. These contests are known as ‘Hackathons.’
The details may not be crystal clear, but the story goes that even the social media giant Twitter was created from an idea during an organized hackathon. Considering that they are worth over 10 billion dollars now, it’s safe to say that that hackathon worked out pretty well.
There are a few people who doubt the effectiveness of hackathons and their ability to contribute innovative ideas. The success of Twitter is just one example that could be used to debunk some of these doubts. Who knows, hackathons could be the key to build up the next technology giant in the next few years.
Despite what critics may say about hackathons, there are few organizations that encourage employees to come up with their own ideas and experiment, while disregarding the concern about its success or failure.
In an effort to promote collaboration and innovation here at the Apttus India office, I took on an experiment to provide an environment for the better qualified techie guys to team up and have fun while working on their ideas. In the shoes of a non-techie, optimistic man, I organized an internal hackathon of my own.
For the event to be a success, I knew that key elements such as enthusiasm, participation, and overall logistics would be essential. To help promote the hackathon, we sent out multiple email blasts, posted numerous marketing collateral around the office, and encouraged our India team to spread the word of the event. We also created various rewards and certificates in order to incentivize participation. In addition to gathering obvious tools such as numerous
laptops, we provided food and beverages as well. Not to mention various software that would help our participants be effective in the hackathon – this meant a fast, working internet connection!
The hackathon itself was an amazing experience. There were 45 employees who participated, consisting of 13 teams working on 13 different projects. The hackathon started at 4:00pm on a Friday and ended at 4:00pm on a Sunday. The first two hours consisted of distributing the participant kits, briefing everyone on the goal and purpose of the event, and creating the multiple teams. Each team also submitted their selected concept that they were going to work on. From there, the real action of coding went from 6:00pm that Friday
till 12 noon on Sunday. Overall, the hackathon spanned 2,160 hours of coding and collaboration.
Once the coding session had ended, our teams had a few hours to prepare their presentation and share their results. I was already expecting great ideas before organizing the hackathon, but I was blown away after watching the team presentations. The participants had done some amazing work and it was crazy how much things they had accomplished with the time allotted. A select few of the management team evaluated each presentation and took note of every team’s project. After it was all said and done, we held an award ceremony to celebrate the hackathon and distributed certificates to our favorite teams.
For most of the participants, this was their first time experiencing a hackathon. A lot of people were new college graduates, so this event gave them the opportunity to work within a team and gain exposure to working hand in hand with experienced folks in their field. It was also an unique experience for everyone as a whole to work with their teams over long nights and eating meals and sleeping on beds in the office. Everyone had a great time and had positive feedback.
If I were to describe the outcome from internal hackathon, it was not solely about getting innovative ideas or dabbling into serious coding. There were plenty of other facets that were involved. It was an experiment to bring together experienced, intelligent individuals from cross-functional teams to work together in an open environment without any pressure of success or failure. It was a TREC (Teaming, Relaxing/Recreating, Eating, Coding) experience that our participants will never forget. It gave a new dimension to Apttus by promoting innovation and opened a new door of perspective for growth.
All in all, I am looking forward to take this story further and organize another hackathon in the near future!