Hackathons are on the rise, and many leading enterprise grade businesses now participating in these events on a regular basis as a way of quickly generating innovative results to difficult problems. Hackathons can take many forms, but usually involve an intensive series of brainstorming, collaboration, and evaluation sessions with the aim of answering or overcoming a specific challenge.
“Hackathons are a febrile hub of workshop activity,” says Roger Aitkin in a Forbes article. “Programmers and software professionals squeezing time in against packed evenings and weekends to accelerate productivity.” He continues to describe the hackathon format as one of “decentralized, disintermediated, distributed computer programming [that] proves an industry standard for software development.”
While hackathons originally revolved around software coding, their usefulness has now extended well beyond this domain. Recently many smaller companies, and even enterprise level corporations and industries have begun experimenting with Hackathons, from the NBA,to The Tate Modern Institute of Art, and even the White House. Read on to learn more about hackathons and discover the secrets to running the ultimate corporate hacking session.
History of Hackathons
The word hackathon came about in 1999 referring to a “hack marathon” (hack meaning exploratory programming not shady criminal behavior). The first hackathons were held in June of that year as attempts to find solutions and meet challenges. Over the next ten years, corporations embraced the hackathon as a smart way to quickly develop new software, generate innovative ideas, and tap into unrealized resources within the firm.
✔ Think the idea is too abstract to garner concrete results? Think again. Here are a few success stories created from hackathons.
✔ GroupMe is a mobile messaging app with over 12 million users, sending out roughly 600 million messages monthly. This Microsoft-spawned company started as a thought at the 2010 TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon. A year later, Skype acquired GroupMe for $85 million.
✔ PhoneGap is a mobile app development framework that revolutionized the world of mobile app development. Its origins? PhoneGap was born during iPhoneDevCamp 2008.
✔ SlickLogin is an innovative login solution that uses sound-based passwords to access password-protected sites and areas. Another TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon production, the company was acquired by Google in 2014.
✔ At the HackSummit each year, real world problems are tackled by minds from all over the world. At the 2014 HackSummit, a solution was found for the rising sea level surrounding San Francisco.
Why Hackathons are Such a Big Deal
Hackathons have loads of potential to bring about major advancements and digital transformation in companies willing to take the necessary actions. They’re used for team collaboration, problem solving, inspiration, and tackling old business models with new verve.
According to experts, hackathons are even better than classic R&D technology at generating solutions to pre-existing problems and sprouting new ideas. These events facilitate a unique setting for concept generation. Remember, hackathons are held for a set amount of time during which everyone focuses on ONE issue or idea (i.e, a business might focus on a tech-specific, process-oriented, or HR hackathon). This highly concentrated, time-sensitive focus delivers results faster than other methods. Additionally, a certain energy is generated within the group dynamics, giving employees’ creative juices a turbo-charge.
The Social and Career Benefits of Hackathons
Hackathons also allow new people to look at an issue from different angles for new solutions. Internal collaboration between teams and individuals who might not normally interact, especially in enterprise corporations which operate on a global scale, frequently produces new and more efficient and creative results. After all, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and sharing data between teams can produce innovations simply based on more information at hand. In addition, the Gartner Hackathon Guide for Digital Workplace Leaders states that « Hackathons also have the potential to influence corporate culture and be used in external marketing efforts to position the company as a savvy digital workplace. »
Additionally, The Atlantic reporter Meredith Broussard, “A hackathon is a sporting and social event. It’s like a regatta for nerds. Hackathons also serve as outrageously complex recruiting events. Venture capitalists and head-hunters for top tech firms haunt hackathons in order to spot and poach talent.”
How Digital Transformation is Revolutionizing Hackathons
Until now, participants use their own coding platforms/software based on the challenge around which the hackathon is launch and their personal preference. It’s also true that until lately, hackathons were just about getting different groups to complete, only comparing their results for the very first time at the decision making stage, once the competition is already over.
Today, like in many other cases, hackathons are going through their own version of digital transformation, with more focus placed on the collaborative aspect over that of the competitive aspect. Instead of trying to find separated paths or even completely different developments in order to reach an end goal, hackathons now include the additional challenge of all participants working together, collaborating in order to reach a breakthrough based not only on the innovation of just a small winning group, but also the powerful collective intelligence of a bigger audience.
In order to mitigate that difference, hackathons are now starting to be run on with hackathon management software. Choosing the right platform can make a clear impact on the challenge of creating collaboration between groups that don’t have much in common aside from their currently working together order to solve a problem or a challenge. This revolution in the perception of how hackathons should be run further challenges conceptions in that these hackathon platforms are very frequently cloud based, challenge the belief that hackathon participants need to be in the same physical environment in order to participate. Today a hackathon can be run with some participants are sitting in an office in the US, some in Asia, and some at home on their couch in India.
Getting a Hackathon Right
Of course, it’s not just about saying “Okay, here’s the problem. Now go!” After working in the typical nine-to-five scheduled grind, most people need to be prepared to enter into a hacking headspace, warming up those creativity muscles, and giving them permission, direction, and motivation on how to think outside the box. Whether that’s bringing in a giant trampoline, hiring a master chef, or using video games to jumpstart the creative cortexes in the brain, companies need to prep for hackathon success.
Here are a few steps to take to set yourself up for hackathon success:
1.Use the right platform: Generating ideas is one thing; capturing those ideas, managing group dynamics, and organizing these events is a different story. A good platform will help you find the right audience, set reasonable parameters, gather ideas generated, export results into a full idea management platform, and see you through implementation.
2. Target your audience: Who you invite to your hack day will generally be determined by the theme or purpose of your hackathon. Niche hacks that focus on a specific social group, theme, or skill set will require one guest list, while a corporate or single application hackathon will invite a different audience. Invite relevant team members to participate, but also leave the door open to people who go out of their way to attend. If someone wants to join in – it’s usually because they have something valuable to contribute.
3. Set attainable goals: It’s nice to think that you’ll create the next Waze from an hour of brainstorming, but that’s not likely. Instead, aim for attainable goals so your employees walk away feeling accomplished and eager to participate again. Decide beforehand what you want to accomplish. Generally one major task will get accomplished, though, of course this number will vary based on how many people you invite, the length of your event, and the type of goals you are setting. Are you looking to upgrade an existing software or element of your business? Perhaps you’d like to fuse together two aspects of your industry for a more robust service. Or maybe you want to find the latest innovation that can help your business pull ahead in the industry. Whatever it is, be specific.
4. Keep things organized: While a structure-free methodology is the fertile ground that great ideas sprout from, everyone needs a bit of direction to get things started. Don’t just throw your staff into a free-for-all and expect something to come of it. Have everything organized including objectives, location, sponsors, schedule, rules, and event leaders prior to curtain call to ensure your hackathon runs smoothly and efficiently.
5. Don’t stop there: Once you’ve gotten the ball rolling, make sure to integrate the hackathon into wider, open innovation management initiatives to keep the momentum going and achieve digital transformation. After all, a one-off event is nice, but you want to merge the hackathon ideas into a larger open innovation puzzle, so that you end up with movement and results.
There’s a reason major companies like Qualcomm, Shutterstock, Yahoo, Verizon, and Ford run periodic hackathons; it’s because they work. You’re almost ready to run the ultimate hackathon — the next step is to discover Qmarket’s purpose-built hackathon management software, Q-hack. Like all of Qmarkets platforms- Q-hack is a collaborative collective intelligence tool. Q-hack’s advantage lies in the fact that companies can launch it and engage with the participants (or prospect participants) both before the hackathon begins as well as after the hackathon ends.
By using Q-hack, these interactions can be continued in order to keep the development process alive. Another advantage of Q-hack is the ability to integrate with the company’s main internal innovation and idea management platform, so the best ideas can go right through the company’s innovation engine and be handled by the right moderators, reviewed by internal experts or implemented through internal project management tools and processes.
Give your company the innovative boost it needs by organizing a hackfest. You might be amazed at what comes out of it.
To find out how Qmarkets‘ hackathon management software can address your innovation needs, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today!