To Hack Or Not To Hack?

Change in IT happens all the time, you could even say that it’s constant. How is it possible to keep up with all these new technologies? How can you manage to stay up-to-date with all the new releases and versions available? Is it even possible? Well, possible or not it’s definitely a hard task to do.

Whether you are a developer, project manager or the CEO of a software house. Here I want to show you a great way to simplify the process of keeping up with all the latest trends in the world of programming. You probably heard about it at least once but let’s dig a little deeper to see the real advantages of organizing a Hackathon in your own company.

What is a Hackathon?

The idea of a hackathon comes from two words: hack and marathon, so putting it together we get a marathon of coding. The idea is that a group of people gathers together to code for 12-48 hours straight. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Well, to be honest, it is but it’s also extremely beneficial for your company.

Opportunity to experience new technologies

In most companies developers code in particular languages or frameworks. There is no time to test new innovative ideas during normal working hours. And that’s why a hackathon can be a space to do it. Not only it gives your team the opportunity to experiment a bit with something you haven’t tried before but also to exchange the experience you already have with your coworkers. What’s more, every team member can have their own personal goal that will help them become more efficient at their work.

Boosting creativity and gaining new ideas for your company’s development

Hackathons are fully about participants. They should be responsible for coming up with the idea, solving all the problems they might encounter during the process. By giving people the freedom to have their own ideas or create their own solutions to more complicated tasks, you give them the possibility of unleashing their creativity and therefore become more inventive and open. During hackathon it’s good to work in a non-standard way: you don’t need tests, code reviews, estimations, documentation. The thing that should matter is coding. This kind of an approach gives you the opportunity to face a different way of creating the product.

Building relations within the team

There is nothing better to connect people than working together for many hours. Research shows that the atmosphere is one of the most valuable factors in the efficiency and productivity of your team’s work. Creating a positive learning experience is a very valuable tool not only in a software house but also for all companies that want to grow and develop their business.

The idea of a hackathon is that people work very close to each other the whole time. A good way to do it is to make the groups different than usual so people can get to know the coworkers they don’t normally work with or experience tasks they haven’t done before. They can also see the whole process of developing something from scratch which for some can be even enlightening.

How we did it in our company?

Our Hackathon started a few days earlier when we brainstormed for ideas. Overall, we gathered 18 of those – on average one per person. Some simple, others more complicated but all ours. When the list was complete, we voted for three we wanted to work on.

These were:

  1. an application to collect and display statistics from BitBucket (PullHero)
  2. tic tac toe with elements of artificial intelligence (Epic Cross & Circle)
  3. a simple application to manage home finance

After meeting on Saturday at 9 am and having a morning coffee, we chose final 2 apps and started discussing them together. The discussion was fruitful as it helped us identify possible problems and decide who wants to work on which app. We decided to go with PullHero (testing D3.js) and Epic Cross&Cirlce (trying Elixir on the backend). The question was how much we could accomplish in only 12 hours.

Our Hackathon was not only about developers and coding. Bringing Project Manager, Office Manager and CEO on-board helped us think more about simplicity in design and overall UX. What is more, it was an excellent opportunity to take a look at a project from a different perspective than usual. Our PM focused on writing tests, and even I did some coding. Having the dev team close was extremely helpful as they were ready to exchange information with the speed of light.

It was my first Hackathon ever but I already see lots of benefits from organizing them more often. They are a great and very easy tool that can help you a lot at your company, providing your team with new experiences, technologies, innovations and simple fun that can make your work much easier and better.

Summary

Hackathons help you:

  • incorporate new ideas into an insufferable and enjoyable way
  • test new ideas and technologies (play with new frameworks or libraries)
  • unleash the creativity of your team in solving different problems
  • create a supportive environment to develop certain skills

How to prepare?

  • gather ideas a few days before
  • make sure all people are involved
  • define what you want to accomplish (as a team and personally)
  • present the demo of your products