What, Why and How of Hackathons?

Did you know that Twitter was created at a company hackathon? The rest, we say, is history. Hackathons have given birth to innovations that have transformed and disrupted both the tech and non-tech worlds. But what exactly is a hackathon? Let us tell you all about it!

 

What is a Hackathon?

A hackathon is an event that brings together people from different backgrounds — programmers, graphic designers, project managers, business analysts, etc. to creatively explore a new idea and develop unique solutions from scratch. Participants learn, network and explore new opportunities. Hackathons are also great opportunities for HR recruiters to scout new talent and begin the process of bringing them on board.

Hackathons can be open-ended or they can be based on a theme, such as solving a particular real-world problem. They can be organized for internal or external audiences. In one of the hackathon - GroupMe a group messaging app was developed that was later acquired by Skype for over $50 million. Similarly, the Facebook “Like” button and “Chat” were both developed at an internal company hackathon event. In fact, the hackathon model has proven so successful that even non-tech fields like finance, healthcare and utilities now use them.

 

Why should organizations participate in Hackathons?

Hackathons are a great way to access top talent. Over the last ten years, HR professionals have stepped up their attendance at such events to see gifted programmers in action and up close. For recruiters, hackathons offer an array of benefits. Here are our top 4:

  1. Branding and awareness: Hackathons are a great place to advertise your company. The intimate and cooperative hackathon environment provides the opportunity for word-of-mouth publicity. They also help you claim some mindshare for your organization among the tech community. Hackathons can also help your company establish a reputation of expertise in your area of specialty. For example, if your company does pioneering work in data science and machine learning, organizing a hackathon can generate awareness of your firm among developers. You can build a positive brand image as a company that rewards innovation and creativity.
  2. Hire skilled individuals: Hackathons are great place for identifying talented people who possess the skill sets, creativity and personality that your company needs. These events offer the chance to observe and test key skills and competencies such as functional skills, creative thinking, teamwork, communication and motivation that are difficult to measure in a traditional interview format. It is also a great way to discover passive talent with niche skill set that are difficult to reach. These professional types are generally intrigued by the opportunities and challenges presented by the unorthodox hackathon environment, and so they tend to participate more often than they do in other types of professional events. Thus, hackathons provide great opportunities to broaden your reach and build a reliable talent pipeline for your company.
  3. Crowdsource innovative ideas for business problems: Hackathons are breeding grounds for new and innovative ideas. Various teams get together to solve problems and develop new solutions. Internal hackathons allow employees from different departments to engage each other, confer on mutual efforts and brainstorm ideas. This helps to bolster creativity, improve employee morale and establish a culture of innovation.
  4. Build a community: Hackathons help you network with creative minds and build a community of highly talented people. The benefits of a hackathon extend well beyond the actual event. Most participants keep in touch directly and through social media — especially if the hackathon was a success. If you take the time to nurture your community, you will not only be rewarded with a ready supply of talent, but you will also win advocates for your company brand in the competitive labor market. And last but not least, you will have a ready-made guest list for your own next hackathon!

 

How to organize a Hackathon?

 

  1. Define theme & target audience: The best way to get started is to define a theme for your hackathon. This will provide the right structure and help to guide the hackathon’s participants. For example, you can organize the event around solving a new problem, or you can concentrate on improving an existing product. Some companies use hackathons to generate awareness of their products and services.
    • The success of your event depends on reaching out to the right participants. So, after defining the theme, you should identify the target audience. If your hackathon will focus on a particular technology (Python, for example) then you need to reach out to Python developers. Consider also inviting a few mentors and thought-leaders to guide the participants.
  2. Design the challenge: Once the theme has been finalized, you should focus on designing an exciting challenge that will engage participants and inspire them to stretch their knowledge and skills. But take care that your challenge is doable within the timeframe of the event. Remember that the purpose of a hackathon is to give birth to new ideas that might mature into successful products. The hackathon is not meant to produce a completed product.
    • Aspiring Minds has a rich question library with hundreds of coding challenges in 50+ programming languages, ML problems, case studies across multiple sectors, as well as hundreds of contests that organizations can readily adopt to design a highly engaging hackathon.
  3. Marketing and promotion: This step is key to the success of your hackathon. Your event needs to have an integrated marketing approach with multiple touch-points for your audience. Build some excitement among the participants well in advance to ensure maximum participation. You might choose to work with a partner to design a dedicated microsite in order to manage digital and offline promotions for the event.
  4. Manage candidate registrations: On the day of the event, there is always a crush at the registration counter. It is often a good idea to hire an experienced vendor to manage logistics. A quality vendor can usher the participants to their assigned rooms and stations and ensure that the event is generally well-paced and well-supplied. You always want to demonstrate that your company is efficient and competent. Such impressions will drive the talent pool and also the community in the long run.
  5. Conduct the event: Managing a hackathon is no different from handling any big event, except with very tight timeframes. You need to manage location, logistics, participants, network connectivity, etc. It can be difficult to manage it completely on your own. This is where it might make sense to hire a vendor.
  6. Candidate evaluation: If you organize the hackathon as a competition, then you need to establish the evaluation parameters. Because hackathons are free-flowing events, it can be difficult to objectively evaluate any individual participant. So if you want your event to be fair and bias-free, you need to adopt a standardized, objective and transparent evaluation process. The evaluation parameters along with any potential awards should be clearly communicated to participants well in advance of the event. This will inspire them to put their best foot forward.
  7. Announcement of results: You can announce the results at the end of hackathon, or you might decide to wait until later. You might need extra time to analyze the results in order to select the winner. Let the participants know in advance of the event when they can expect to be notified of the results. Once the winners are finalized, broadcast the results to all the participants through the communication channels (social media, for example) that you are using. Announcing the results in such a public way helps to generate awareness and build brand advocates, especially among the winners.
  8. Interview shortlisted candidates: The best time to identify potential talent for your company is when you are analyzing the results. At the time that you announce the winners, you can approach your desired candidates and ask if they would like to sit for an interview with your company. You can conduct the interviews in-person or remotely using a live interview platform.

 

Aspiring Minds offers SmartMeet – a live interviewing platform featuring video/audio conferencing, whiteboard, chat and also real-time AI insights to help you make informed hiring decisions. SmartMeet delivers a real-life interview experience while helping companies reduce the operational expense and hassle of traditional interviewing.

To sum it up, a hackathon is a great way to bring quality people together to address pressing challenges, brainstorm new ideas and build a community of problem solvers. Hackathons help organizations tap into a high-quality talent pool to build a strong talent pipeline.

Aspiring Minds has successfully organized hackathons for hundreds of leading companies. Our hackathons can help you discover high-quality, creative talent to enhance your workforce in today’s highly competitive job market. Contact us today to discuss our hassle-free AI powered hackathons, case-study challenges, contests and more!

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