What is the Purpose of a Hackathon? Ours Helped Us Get Work Done Faster

What is the Purpose of a Hackathon? Ours Helped Us Get Work Done Faster

We finished our yearly hackathon recently and wanted to share what worked well, what we plan to change, and what we built.

We decided to go low-process this year, and used a simple shared Google doc to allow anyone in the company to add an idea. We ended up with 35 ideas from 23 people. Not bad! By getting ideas from anyone in the company, not just the engineering and product teams, we got some great ideas that we would not have thought of otherwise.

On the first day of the hackathon, the engineers self-assigned themselves to projects that interested them and met with the stakeholders. Since the hackathon was only two days long, we had to aggressively cut scope, which actually led to some great proof of concepts that might not have been built if we had more time.

The hackathon was a big success: we ended up building 17 projects, including a tool that could save tens of hours each week, a few Slack bots, and Pokemon.

Helping our coworkers work faster

Hired’s Talent Advocates help every single one of our candidates find jobs. Among other things, they provide resume help and can link candidates to interesting employers that match their interests. Ideally, they’d spend all of their time with candidates, but one hackathon team identified a process that required a lot of manual processing of an internal report… six times a week. In just two days, one engineer automated most of this process, which works out to saving almost two hours every week for _every_ Talent Advocate at Hired. Now our Talent Advocates have more time to help candidates find a great job.

Slack Bot

Hired has a set of core values centered around trying new ideas, setting ambitious goals, and investing in our employees. Every month at our company-wide meeting, we recognize someone who has embodied one of those core values. But it’s always nice to be recognized more than once a month, which is why I built a Slack bot. When someone uses the Slack bot to award someone for a specific value (plus the reason why), it’s posted publicly to our internal #values channel and the recipient is notified. It’s a great way to provide quick positive feedback to a coworker.

Pokémon

One of the more playful tools that we built involves Pokemon. We have a number of staging environments where engineers can test their changes before submitting them for review. Those environments are pre-populated with test data and use pictures of cartoon robots instead of real profile pictures (courtesy of Robohash). It generates a random number and pulls the picture of that Pokemon from [this list].  Fun hacks like this are a great way for engineers to explore areas of the application that they may not have seen before.

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Looking back

So, what went well? We explicitly set the expectation that people would only work on hackathon projects during work hours (9 to 5). The word “hackathon” has a connotation of working very long hours until something is finished. At Hired, we work standard hours and we continued to head home at 5 during the Hackathon. However, we did offer free dinner for people who wanted to stick around.

We did a great job of scoping our projects. We shipped a lot of small but impactful projects without overreaching into projects that would take a long time to finish.

One aspect that we plan to change is how we organize hackathons. We lost some time by self-organizing on the first day of the hackathon. In the future, we plan to set aside explicit time to organize teams before the hackathon starts.

Overall, the hackathon was a success. It brought together teams and people that don’t often have cause to work together and we had fun doing it. Plus, we actually shipped some projects. Not bad for two days!