What is the concept of Hackathon, why is it worth considering and what are the benefits Hackathon can bring to you and your company? In this article, I will share with you my experiences connected with organizing and bringing the event to life — from the very first concept to the big day itself and the final stage, right after Hackathon — in order to make your hard work pay off.
Specify your goal
If you are organizing this event in your company, first of all you need to know why are you doing so. It is a crucial factor, which will make it easier to convince others to take part in it. You should be able to answer the question:
'Why do I want to encourage others to take part in Hackathon?'
Participating in this type of events challenges those involved. There are strictly technological challenges (an opportunity to work with technologies that are not our day to day ones), communication ones (you need to communicate with people you often don’t know much about), business challenges and organizational (how to prepare and divide work in such a way, to enable participants to build something valuable in a limited amount of time). A possibility to fulfill technological needs and find release is an additional motivating factor for developers and Hackathon is a great place for that.
When you know exactly why you would like to organize Hackathon, it’s time to start preparations. I made a quick checklist, which describes exactly what you should remember about during the organizational stage:
Find the best time and place
Whether on the weekend, during workweek, office hours or after hours — how many hours, where? — in the open space or at desks — you need to know everything from the very beginning, before you start any marketing and logistic activities.
Specify the rules or their lack of
For example, Hackathon can have a theme or the topic can be specified the day of. In my case, in order to dedicate as much time as possible to the project, I encouraged my co-workers to submit their ideas prior to the event. The participants were able to present their ideas (we called them Product Owners for the time being) on the basis of which, we created teams that transformed those ideas into actual products during Hackathon. It is the best option if you are under a time crunch.
Spread the word
Remember to inform the world about your event early on. You will not only reach a bigger group of people but also much more aspects of the event will be thought through and prepared in time. Build anticipation like in Hitchcock movies so your participants will not be able to contain their excitement. Talk to potential attendees about the event wherever possible. In order to strengthen the message I prepared two presentations:
- first one (link here), researching the idea of this event itself, was presented 2 months before the event. The response was satisfying enough, so I prepared a second one (link here) with FAQ — answering all the questions that arose about Hackathon.
- additionally, a couple of days before the big day, in the place which everybody goes through at least once a day (in my case, I chose the hallway leading to the dining area), I set up a whiteboard with the event’s agenda and answers to the frequently asked questions. Slack turned out to also be of a great help — constant information/questions and answers connected with the event (but try not to overdo them) allowed me to keep the event in everybody’s minds till the very day of.
Let others help you — don’t do everything by yourself. It would be ideal if on the day of Hackathon everything was prepared — food, tables, equipment, easily accessible agenda, flipcharts/whiteboards to note the ideas on and create mockups, post-its, markers and other supplies. Strangely enough, it is the most time-consuming and tricky part of the whole. It is wise to ask a couple of people for additional support on the day of the event (before and after) for a hustle-free cleanup. The additional efficiency bonus was the fact, that everybody took their own desk chair, which made cleaning crew’s lives much easier.
Document your event
Ask colleagues who are passionate about photography to take a few pictures/videos. It is also a great opportunity for live, on the spot, interviews with teams during their struggles with the projects. Make use of this sales and marketing potential. This type of materials will help you easily “sell” the next editions of Hackathon.
If you organize everything smoothly, on the day of the event you will not only be the organizer but also an active participant — and this is what it’s all about.
Additionally, I prepared a short checklist of things you should remember about:
- Get estimated number of attendees (the event size — I had 40 people)
- Gather the organizational team to help before & after the event
- Get whiteboards (for list of projects/mockups etc)
- Get TV (for presentation with agenda/rules/projects — my example)
- Order a food & drinks
- Get furnitures (desks/chairs/poufs for sitting)
- Get sticky notes/pens/pencils
- Get rollups (for branding purpose)
- Find someone who can capture the event (photo/video)
- Get extension cords (for laptops) — and stickers for chargers (so anyone can sign his charger)
Execution — Day Zero
In my case, Hackathon was organized during the company’s internal day. Excluding preparation time, the participants had roughly 6 hours dedicated to solely working on ideas/projects. What can be done in 6 hours? As it turns out, a lot. We created 7 teams, which at the end, presented their project propositions. We were able to create solutions using technologies like Ruby on Rails, React, EmberJS, Crystal, Elixir, FireBase & Node. Our teams were organized according to Agile standards — and thanks to previous presentations, most of the people were able to organize things on their own. Of course, your role as the organizer is to help those undecided find themselves. It is worth asking the product-owners of the smallest teams whether they want some help and “hand” the participant over to the team that needs him.
I mentioned the possibility of creating marketing materials from this event. We were able to create a short film of this creative chaos, which you can watch here.
If you are interested in what we were able to do in 6 hours, click the “follow me” button — in the next article I will describe the project we were working on during Hackathon in much more detail. As a sneak peek, I attach one of the mockups:
Organization of such an event gives a good positive kick of energy for everybody involved. It is also a great marketing tool, a possibility to create a rich sales material. Everybody can participate in this kind of events — no matter what function in the company they serve — every help/idea can turn out to be crucial for improving the final product. That is why it is important to engage developers together with the sales/office people and from other departments of your company in the event. It is also a great way to integrate co-workers — as it helps to build relations among those who did not have the opportunity to work with one another before.
My team :) — “kudo starter” project In my case, the event was held during the workweek — it is worth starting from there for people to catch the Hackathon bug and start wanting more. It will be a great motivation for them to show up at the next, longer edition, which can be held during the weekend. It is crucial to remember not to overdo with the event consistency, for it not to become something ordinary, so people will always wait for “the day” with great anticipation.
If you have ideas how to improve and enrich this type of event, or you simply have some experience what works/doesn’t work during similar events — feel free to share your knowledge in the comments below.
If you like this kind of initiative, show it to the people in your company and organize your very own Hackathon! Believe me, it is worth it.
Ps. Big thanks to everyone who made it possible!