Every year our Product and Engineering teams run an internal hackathon with the goal of creating something that can benefit the organization. It all starts with “The Pitch” where individuals share their ideas for a project with the goal of garnering interest in folks joining their team. This year we had 21 pitches(!!) with topics ranging from a new in product customer onboarding program to developing a search plugin for an internal tool, to adding support for additional development languages. Of the 21 proposed projects, 14 recruited teams and hit the grown running preparing for the hackweek.
The teams had 5 working days to pull together their projects. The teams are cross-functional and many individuals took on a role outside of their usual scope of work. This results in the hackweek being described as “the week where you will learn the equivalent of what you learn in an average quarter.” And Michelle Wan, Software Engineer, describes the week as “a great opportunity to work with people you would have never had the opportunity to work with other wise!”
Sofiya Minnath, a Senior Technical Writer, describes her first ever hackathon experience, “I was always skeptical about it demanding deep technical knowledge but there was a project I was able to contribute to with my skillset. The whole experience gave me a glimpse of the end-to-end project execution processes. We had a PM/BA to gather requirements and the rest of the team acted as stakeholders, which gave me an awesome experience to learn how things work in the early stage of a project. We also had training, documentation, and development experts to add value with their expertise. We worked as a group and did most of it together, that gave me an opportunity to see how others think and work. It was one-of-a-kind experience.”
At the close of the week of hacking, the teams first presented their work in a Science Fair as a preview to the final presentations. Followed by final presentations where there’s open voting to identify the top 3 projects. The winners are memorialized on a trophy and get the associated bragging rights. Drumroll please… coming in first place is the Terraform Team (Alex R, Constantin K, Gaurav T, David M, Steve R, Yury M), second place is the Elastic Path Commerce Optimizer Team (GeoffD, Ivan J, YooYoung L, Michael L), and in third place is the Diagraming Tool/Workflow Team (Arlene, Nadira, Sofiya, Emily, Steven, Shahbano). I won’t get into the details of these projects in this post, but stay tuned as I know several team members are eager to share their projects with you.
Our software development manager, Janna Brockmeyer, ran our hackathon and below are her tips should you want to run a hackathon of your own.
Tips for Running a Hackathon
1. Provide prompts for idea generation leading into the pitch. Here's what we used:
- Fixing a workflow at work that is making your life difficult
- A great idea you've had stuck in your head
- Trying out a new language/framework
- Something that could help the product and possibly make it into production
2. Encourage everyone to be open minded throughout the entire process.
3. Be transparent with the entire organization. While the non-product teams may not have the skills or interest to be involved in the actual hacking, allow them to follow along and cheer on the teams' work.
4. Cancel meetings and keep outside distractions low. From an event organization standpoint, keep the programing simple to empower teams to have fun and learn new skills.
5. Keep the prizes small to avoid unnecessary competition and encourage individuals to help other teams.
Interested in joining our product/engineering teams? Check out our open job opportunities: https://www.elasticpath.com/company/ecommerce-jobs