Running internal hackathon to spark innovation and collaboration

Hi,

So I wanted to talk about the very first project that I’ve shared with my team when I started at Robotmaster. My team initially told me that if there was anything I could bring up that I felt could help them in any way, I was free to do so. I’d really like to commend them because they were really open to this. The very first thing that I’ve brought was hosting internal hackathons to spark innovation and embrace the developer’s creativity.

After some back and forth on the idea, we finally reach an agreement and we’ve hosted our first internal hackathon in the first week of January, right after the holidays. So let’s first talk about why would people be interested in hackathons.

Why are people interested in hackathons? 

Hackathons are a fruitful platform choice for the idea proliferation and for launching new advancements in programming technologies. Most entrepreneurs who participate in these events claim that all their ideas and projects from hackathons find way to incorporate themselves into their business over time.

To be able to thrive in a hackathon, you need to

  • Cut the scope
  • Take some shortcuts
  • Fully use every available resource

For instance, to complete the project within the given time frame, you need to play on the strengths and abilities of your team. Doing so, it can

  • Bring the best in people
  • Produce greats results
  • Be excellent for bonding

Once the project is done, you are still amazed to see what was made in such a short period of time.

One of the greatest features of hackathons lies in their creative freedom. It brings participants to come to work together and innovate on new ideas. Working with a relatively small time limit and with tools that you may not be aware of, hackathons can quickly push you out of your comfort zone and provide you with a great opportunity for learning.

Why are companies interested in hackathons?

You can’t work on the same thing as your day job. This is one of the cardinal rules to respect.

Hackathons hosted internally in a company can unshackle some of the corporate bureaucracy that hinders creative thought and helps big brands overcome the struggle of accepting innovation within the company. They’re meant to shift the routine and getting people out of their comfort zone and allows decisions to be quickly made. It creates new leadership opportunities, a chance to experiment and reinvigorate the innovation culture.

Hackathons are meant to be experimentation ran in a low-cost fashion. They have this amazing return on investment; trying out new things that can lead to a custom solution or a new business venture in a short amount of time is great but failing to find something that works well is even better. As the saying goes, ‘failure is the mother of success’. It gives a chance to get some feedback and see what went wrong and all of this, in a small time frame instead of spending weeks and/or months in meetings. In other words, hackathons may only result in learning, not fantastic new product ideas; it’s a gamble, but a good one to take.

Working differently on similar problems will force employees to think outside of the box to find solutions. And doing so is awesome because the silver bullet may never be found, but the participants of the event can find something that was unexpected. This may be using the software to break into new markets, developing extensions that open up entirely new customer lines; the potential of a hackathon is limitless.

A few success stories in companies

Facebook

The following items are now products that can be found within the platform of the company. Those were prototyped in a hackathon and further developed to be used by real users.

  • The ‘like’ button
  • The Timeline
  • Instant messaging in chat
  • Tagging friends in comments

Microsoft

In 2014, former NFL player Steve Gleason, whose movement is limited by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, suggested helping the many folks in situations like him to effectively interact with computers. A hackathon team, Ability EyeGaze, put together a wheelchair that could be controlled by gaze-tracking software on a Surface. The Eye Gaze Wheelchair received such enthusiasm from employees and the ALS community that a new Microsoft Research team was created to understand the potential of eye-tracking technology.

For now, I can’t go too much in detail in the hackathon project I’ve worked on, although it will come shortly!

Kevin

Engineering Notes

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