Running an Internal Hackathon- Part 1

When was the last time you ran an internal hackathon with your Engineering team?

We all heard about big companies doing it, some of you may have even participated in one. Whether it’s Google or Amazon – they all do it.  But they have a benefit of the size to invite hundreds of people and have rather broad themes.  I was talking to a colleague recently who works at a modern bank.  Their recent one was about Innovation in FinTech.  But how do you do it if your dev team is 7 people or 70 and some of them are remote?

Last year, we at SmartBear ran a hackathon with one of our nine product teams.  It was extremely well received both by the Product Management and the engineering team itself.

Two months ago, we’ve decided to make Hackathons part of our regular cadence of development activities.  We have decided to roll it out to the rest of the Dev organization, covering multiple geographies and products.

As we were thinking about an approach, we identified things to solve for:

  • A theme which would work for everyone
  • A common judging criteria
  • A recognition denomination, which would work across teams in US, Ireland, Stockholm, and Russia
  • How to make it fun and inclusive
  • Figuring out how to “sell” this to Product Management and to Executives as a good thing for the company

At SmartBear we are lucky to have Developers, Testers, DevOPS, and their managers as the end users of our products. Not to mention that we eat our own caviar here all the time.  This opens up the realm of opportunities to what a theme could be, which would impact our customers while giving our engineers the freedom to be innovative, and perhaps even surprise the Product Managers.

Here is where we ended up for Rules and Guidance:

Rules

  1. Projects must fit within the theme of “Help Developers, Testers, DevOPS, Engineering or their managers”
  2. Be Creative

Participants can develop an add-on to an existing SmartBear product or a standalone tool. It could be a commercial feature or an open source product (we are big into open source as well).  In the end, all that really matters is the theme is fulfilled.

At the end of the Hackathon, participants must be able to demonstrate a value of their work (i.e. Demo it). It doesn’t have to be done but it should work.

Judges

  • GM/Product VP of a Business
  • Chief Technology Officer
  • SVP of Engineering

Categories:

  1. Most User-Customer impactful
  2. Best out-of-the-box
  3. Best Team Work
  4. Most votes by the team itself – we are a democracy after all

Hackathoning, as many other things in life, require skills and experience. Every time you/team does it – it gets better.

Do you run hackathons at your organization? Share any tips you have below!

Stay tuned for the next installment, where we will cover how the first Hackathon went and what we learned. I will also summarize all other hackathon sessions we will have over the next 4 weeks, five in total.

– Dmitry Fonarev, SVP of Engineering and Customer Care

 

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