I am a huge fan and promotor – well, also organizer – of hackathons and if you ask me yes, everyone should participate at least in one in a lifetime! It is a boost of energy, creativity, potential, spreads open collaboration values and enhances literally every issue we put in the hackathon engine (centrifuge). Participating in it, really is a game changer.

 

But before I start listing all the benefits most of you probably wonder – what a hackathon actually is?

It is a marathon-like event that involves creative individuals, formed in teams focused on finding and solving certain challenges, whether it is programming, product, business or finding answers, to improve the procurement process, e.g. The peculiarity of the event is that it is extremely intense, as everything happens within a few days. From getting to know each other and putting together teams, explaining challenges, setting expectations, to the very final presentation of an idea. In most cases, we are talking about 36 or 48 hours. Hackathons are literally suitable for anyone who wants to try something new. Not necessarily just kids and students. At the hackathon itself, you always learn a lot, even about yourself, and above all, it’s a great networking event. Most of the challenges for hackathons are given by companies, which then also actively participate. How many potential job seekers can say that they met the entire management of a company in one weekend?

 

Where did it all begin?

The very meaning of the word Hackathon comes from the English “to hack”, which means to break in. The first hackathons were designed exclusively to encode “holes” in software systems. The beginnings date back to 1999 to USA. Since the middle of 2000, they have become a popular way for companies to get quick solutions to their challenges. In the beginning purely programming. Over the years, it has also developed into the search for business challenges, mixed, the search for various innovative answers to various questions that plague companies. We’ve started organising them in 2015 and since then it has been a popular way of connecting companies and young people, where, of course, countless new opportunities are being born.

 

How does a hackathon actually look like?

If we look “at a glance”, young people solve the challenges of companies and potentially receive monetary (or in kind) awards, and companies get new, innovative solutions. But let’s not forget that companies can also get new driven employees. Hackathon is like one quick course on the basics of entrepreneurship on steroids. In two days, the competitors (young at heart, as we host all generations) get to know their new team, meet the challenges, mentors and new environment. And then they have less than 2 full days in total, not only to come up with the most innovative solution, but also to test it with users and make a business plan out of it. Many times, also product design. In the end, competitors have to impress the jury with a perfect presentation. Our task during the hackathon is to help them through all these phases. We carry out mini workshops on effective networking and teamwork, design thinking, preparation of a business model and presentations according to the CO * STAR method. They also have professional mentors available at all times. In fact, a hackathon, for all who want it, is an event from which you take away invaluable knowledge, skills and acquaintances, while still having immense fun. The hackathon provides immeasurable breadth for all subsequent projects.

I find them to be the best party for the weekend. And if I don’t organize our own, I sign up for one – out of pure curiosity and desire for new experiences and acquaintances.

 

Why do so many corporates invest in hackathons?

Internal sourcing of innovation: the nature of hacking challenges promotes an out-of-the-box approach to workflow. Competitive environment, when followed by an attractive prize, helps bring out the best solutions in short periods of time. For large organizations in particular, hackathons can be adapted to greatly accelerate the process of digital transformation and culture change. They are less about designing new products and more about “hacking” away those old processes and ways of working.

External sourcing of innovation:  hackathons are definitely a great way to get a different view on the company’s challenges. Hackathons provide solutions from a different unencumbered perspective.

 

A new way of thinking: an internal hackathon can uncover latent talent within your organization. The event allows your employees to get out of their daily role and flex their creative muscles. Hosting a hackathon is also recommended if your company needs to think differently about a problem they have struggled to solve with traditional approaches.

 

Promoting diversity and teamwork: g. For that they also need good communications skills. So, it is recommended to open application to hackathon to everyone (external and internal) and then form diverse teams to give them the best chance.

 

Recruiting new talent: when hackathons are not held within the company, but rather open to the public, they turn into a promotional initiative that can be used to source new tech talents, recruit programmers, graphic designers, and more! Hackathons are the ultimate job interview. They give you an opportunity to work directly with potential employees and see who is a good cultural fit.

 

Employee retention: employee retention can be another beneficial aspect of hackathons held within a company. Being stagnant and only focusing on a repetitive set of tasks is a major reason for workers to change jobs. When presented with opportunity to broaden their skill set, however, they are inclined to stay in the same company as they are given more than just the pay check. Hackathons are a great teambuilding activity!

PR and marketing: it is simple; hackathons are great PR and generate easy stories to tell. They also help promote products or services your company does to a broader audience.

 

What about impact?

In fact, companies via hackathons see “in action” that it is possible to work in a different, more open way, which includes a huge amount of cooperation, constructive communication and flexibility. Hackathon is usually the first step in a more radical change in the way we work, the way we lead teams. Certainly, hackathons are the best example of innovation, open cooperation, acceptance of every given situation, quick adaptation, respectful communication and argumentation … where everything depends on people. If the culture of hackathons could be introduced into every company, every environment, and the wider society, we firmly believe, everyone would have a more optimistic view of the future.

 

Why should you compete on a hackathon?

Hackers love the adrenaline rush of finding something new, creating outside the comfort zone. Of course, they also appreciate the accessibility of the directors and board members of the corporate sponsors, who are usually present at hackathons. Can you imagine that you are in the final year of high school and that a member of the management board of a larger company talks to you on an equal footing? Priceless. Certainly, the possibility of getting to know employees of clients who also compete side by side and understanding the company for which you are looking for solutions, should not be neglected. These are all the comments we receive. Of course, the level of enthusiasm is also somewhat conditioned by whether the team has received any awards. In principle, we always try to keep the hackers from the event excited, inspired and hungry for more.

By regularly checking why someone applied to a hackathon we know that reasons for participating are different. The predominant one is to try something new. To learn something new. That they might get a chance at a new job. To meet new people. To have fun.

It’s hard to describe how all of this is possible in just 36-48 hours, but it is. Everything and more. That’s why I always say, everyone should try themselves at some hackathon at least once in their life. It opens the door to a new world of how one can work and co-create without artificial distance.

It’s agility, innovation and fun accelerated.

 

And if we would only have 5 words to describe a hackathon experience those would be: connectivity, collaboration, adrenaline, innovation, fun and to add – a desire for more.

“Once a hacker, always a hacker!”

Urška Jež
Urška Jež