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Talent Assessment | 12 Min Read

What The Hack Are Hackathons

What Is a Hackathon?

It is simple- a bunch of developers, software programmers, or designers joining hands for a specified period, generally 24-48 hours, to build something awesome.

The participants try to ‘hack’ their way through the assigned task. It’s a fun environment where teams of 3-5 brainstorm with each other’s brilliant minds to create a prototype generally held over the weekend. The goal is to develop usable or prototype software

In the mid to late 2000s, hackathons spread like fire and made a place in the lives of venture capitalists and companies to develop new technologies. The very first hackathons examples are those that were organized in 1999 by OpenBSD and Sun Microsystems, which were conducted in-company.

Like events, hackathons are focused, cooperative, innovative, and highly stimulative. They wrap themselves with a plethora of opportunities for prospects and form an integral part of the corporate culture. Don’t limit hackathons to just technical industries; they have a name in the finance, healthcare, education, and government sector.

The speed and effectiveness of the hackathon reek of awesomeness. They are the shortest route to achieve substantial outcomes that a program can take. Not all hackathons are the same, but yes, the ground rule- “Build from scratch” is never compromised. Based on their objectives hackathons come in various types.

The Various Types of Hackathons

Hackathons are usually of 2 types- Internal and External. Internal hackathons primarily focus on the people the company engages with, its employees and external hackathons have participants from outside the workplace. Both of these types can be sub-categorized for the purpose they serve-

Online/Offline– The name comes from the location. Online hackathons are conducted on virtual hackathon platforms that offer everything from registration to judging online. Offline is conducted at a physical location.

Application-based- The focus is mobile app development, video game development, or the desktop operating system.

Specific programming language- Dedicated to developing applications that use a particular framework like JavaScript, HTML.

The cause- The social hackathons aimed at addressing issues of health care, women empowerment, education.

Code sprints- They are the longest of hackathons that last for 2-3 weeks where programmers write codes to create a software.

Demographic groups- They are community-specific and are majorly organized for creating brand awareness.

The Hackathon Culture in Companies

Hackathons accelerate the process of digital transformation. They are not only about designing products but hacking out of the old ways, McKinsey.

The need to create in a competitive landscape is persuading companies to improve their innovation quotient. Hence what better way than a continuous series of hackathons to reap meatier ROI with better recruitment, employee engagement, and product prototyping. Hackathons are not mere sleepover events; they are an initiative for a better future.

“Apurva Dalal, an Ex-Googler and VP Engineering at Komli Media, uses the hackathon company culture to let his employees do their stuff and have fun at the same time. He further adds that hackathons are much freer than the daily rigors at the office.”

Companies tend to be more successful if they invest in a developer, coder, engineer, or programmer rather than the company itself. And with this, we present to you the four use cases of a hackathon shared by two major categories, external and internal. The difference between the internal and external hackathons comes with the purpose they serve. Keep a close eye on not mixing up the goals.

Use cases for internal & external hackathons

External Hackathons

If you want to hack the old recruitment strategies and brand your initiatives, then external hackathons seem appropriate for the job.

Hackathons as a Recruitment Tool

Hiring the right person has been a sensitive issue, close to the company’s heart. Modern recruitment tools such as assessments have helped smoothen the process. Besides, the contribution of online hackathon platforms as a recruitment tool has turned convenience up a notch for companies. 

In the age of automation, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and all the technological landscape, hackathons seem to be all the rage for millennials. Undoubtedly the next-generation workforce, which will form 50% of the employees in the global market, are the millennials. As a part of the industry which is changing day by day, the trigger for this generation is to improve their skills and be a part of a great experience, one event which suffices all their needs is the hackathon.

Let us now try to broaden our vision and see how hackathons play a significant role in the lives of recruiters-

i) A Valuable Environment-

Hackathon is the place where diversified minds and ideas come together under one roof to create solutions. The event which intends to create something exceptional in the given time encourages positive competition amongst participants, helping them unleash their true potential. The fully engaged community of candidates gives an excellent opportunity to recruiters to know them better. Recruiters get an idea of the passion and dedication the individuals can exhibit while completing a task. If recruiters look carefully, they are provided by a 360-degree vision of the participant’s working potential.

ii) A Proliferating Community-

What companies want is to get their hands on the best candidates. And for that, online hackathon platforms are the way to meet the most influential community enthused with ideas to become better. These individuals yearn for better professional development proving them to be commendable employees in the future who will keep adding value to the company. Hackathon platforms do not just allow recruiters to judge a candidate’s technical skills, but also the way they approach a problem and interact with others.

“Smart File, an Indiana-based file-sharing company, hosted “Bake-off”, a hackathon where developers were expected to create an app for the company’s API. The company’s digital marketing manager was not looking for someone who won the contest but wanted to observe the participants’ approach and choose someone who has a go-getter attitude and plays with the team. Travis Cunningham won even though he was a part of the losing side. What he demonstrated was a positive attitude, even in the high-stress environment that ensued. A curious fellow who even helped others succeed.”

It has been seen that the recruitment time is cut down by almost 80% in hackathons.

Online hackathon platforms have replaced the age-old tiring campus hiring drama with a new, creative recruitment approach. They are like the live band of ideas and performances where participants get a taste of how the future work will be and the recruiters also get a clear picture of what they are looking for in a candidate.

Virtual hackathon platforms are a  means for millennials to connect with the brand, and once the harmony is created between potential candidates and the brand, that is when the magic happens.

When companies like Facebook are wielding the sword of hackathons to break open newer paths of innovation, hosting about 50 internal hackathons that led to the creation of brilliant products such as the mobile ad or chat platforms. Need we say more?  So, the next time you go on a hiring spree, consider hosting a hackathon of your own.

Hackathons as a Brand Enhancer

Technological disruption is pervasive and ingrained in business ecosystems, be it a large conglomerate, start-up, or even a team. Companies may vary in size or stature, but they need a platform that brings talented individuals to collaborate and innovate, which is why hackathon events are essential. It doesn’t matter whether you are a small start-up or a big organization, hackathons not only help in reinforcing brand image but also create a pipeline of ideas for building a great product.

The great thing about hackathons is that the crowds are typically engaged, motivated, and interested in learning and sharing ideas — often spending their entire weekends involved in the pursuit of new knowledge. Ideation is the core of innovation, which is why companies like MasterCard Canada bring their APIs to developers at hackathons for honest, constructive, and collaborative feedback. From a marketing and PR perspective, getting the word out at a good hackathon can be like hitting the jackpot. You’re exposing your product to a large, diverse group of potential customers and learning ways to improve it in real-time.

Internal Hackathons

If you want to beat the era of boredom, are concerned about employee turnover, and want to improve productivity, organize internal hackathons to promote employee engagement and upskilling.

Hackathons as an Employee Engagement Tool

Think about it: how much effort companies put in the new joiners to make them corporate ready. But when these employees get prompted by factors like work-culture, growth prospects, or a lack of cross-departmental communication, they call it quits.

1/6th employees quit their job within three months of starting the position.

Quitting is just the beginning of the newly added costs; think about the amount you’d spend recruiting new candidates, training them, and another setback if they leave. So save yourself from the misery by engaging employees to stay in your organization.

Hackathon management platforms are a great way of building a work culture and creating professional bonding among existing employees.

The journey of hackathons has been fascinating, from the start-up garage to the corporate mainstage, it wasn’t a smooth ride. At each level, they served people with different purposes, one such being employee retention and engagement. Big names in the business world such as Google, LinkedIn, and Accenture use internal hackathons to retain the employees while initiating innovative solutions to problems.

Connect with the employees and break through the organization silos with hackathons. So let us see what our employees want and what the hackathons can offer.

difference-between-millennials-&-corporates

Once we know about the desires of our developers, we are in a better position to engage them, we know what they want, we also have a clear understanding of what we can offer, but the thread that bridges the gap is missing. No, wait a minute, stop, think, and now proceed, the answer is here right here- a hackathon platform is a survival kit all organizations need.

Given below are the points that will justify this statement, have a look.

i) Learning Tool-

Above all, hackathon management platforms are simply brilliant tools to promote learning and break away from closeted ways of thinking. It brings together a diverse group of people who may not have a chance to interact regularly, even if they happen to work for the same organization. Virtual hackathon platforms provide a perfect setting for finding solutions to problems that aren’t apparent unless you step back and see things from a different perspective, which is what a hackathon sets out to do.

ii) The Branding Initiative-

Where do you think Facebook’s “instant verification on Android” feature, “like” button, and “tagging” functionality come from? These are some of the best hackathon examples where excellent outcomes were generated. The hackathon format has been very instrumental in providing useful and creative ideas in the shortest possible time.

iii) Time-Bound Innovation-

Because hackathons are time-bound, they force everyone to focus their efforts on addressing the problem statement instead of being distracted by long-term planning and management.

We think it is evident from the above arguments that hackathon management platforms connect employee’s expectations from an organization and offerings that corporates provide.

The concoction of exciting opportunities and experiential learning build great teams. When diverse teams from various departments-  from designers to engineers to marketers, come together, it sets a creative framework and an adrenaline rush infuses the workplace for quite some time.

A normal product development follows a very linear approach- the designer comes up with a proposal, which is then passed on to the engineers, from where it moves to the manufacturer and lastly to sales. Hackathon management platform provides an opportunity for all the ideas and professions to come together to make an impressive product like the iPhone. Hackathons promote a culture of innovation in the company and create a culture of belonging in the workplace. And that’s how you save yourself from the heart attack.

Hackathons as a Skilling Tool

In this era of dynamism, where skills are changing rapidly, advancement in employees’ skills is becoming every company’s top priority. Today, all business leaders and human resource managers consider learning as a strategic component of the overall organizational growth. A company fails to perform if its employees are not efficient in their jobs. Ergo, continuous development and skills improvement will strengthen the ability to adapt to ever-evolving circumstances.

Hackathons are one way that companies can assess the employee’s competencies and behavior. They nurture an environment of collaboration where employees with different levels of skill sets come together to solve a problem. The teamwork and varied inputs by employees provide a clear window to the business leaders and human resource managers, who are then able to identify the experts and the beginners. When teams work on problems and put efforts to search for a solution, there are some out of the box thinkers who apply all the learnings and hit the right chord while others follow.

These events aid in the identification of subject matter experts and novices. Such a setup gives candidates a chance to explore the reservoir of knowledge and skills which are new to the industry and recruiters an eye to distinguish the experts from the beginners. The experts can then be marked as the high potential employees who can be further skilled and take the helm of leadership. This is how an internal hackathon can contribute to skilling employees in an organization.

What Is the Use of a Hackathon Management Software?

Hackathons infuse innovation into the corporate culture by providing a platform for employees where they work in tandem with other business functions and showcase their talent. In recent times, hackathon tools became crucial in ascertaining the competency of candidates for recruitment. They have been extensively used in the field of Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, and Machine Learning. During the recruitment process, employers need to evaluate the candidates’ expertise, and through Hackathon tools, selection becomes much easier. Moreover, many tech professionals use this medium to refine their programming and problem-solving skills. Consequently, there is a tremendous increase in the number of hackathons being conducted in India. More companies, for this reason, require a hackathon management software to pull off virtual events that are engaging and meaningful.

There are some crucial points to keep in mind when choosing a hackathon platform, such as:

How Big Should a Hackathon Be?

Engaging and planning for a large congregation of attendees is not an easy task. Several rounds of brainstorming sessions brimming with ideas of execution are sure to follow. Managing the copious amount of registrations and judging a large pool of participants can take a toll on organizers. If it’s an internal or corporate hackathon that requires the participation of employees from various locations, anything less than a robust hackathon management platform won’t suffice. A reliable platform efficiently manages all communications and entries with the utmost ease.

Is It a Multi-Phased or a One-Off Event?

Online hackathons have a far-reaching impact, but you need a robust platform that is ideal for prototype submissions. A file upload portal that supports multiple file formats is essential for participants to help them upload large files at specific times. Considering that hundreds and thousands of participants attempt uploading and downloading of files at the same time, internet infrastructure must be able to support such demand.

Taking Ideation into Consideration

Sometimes you may want to conduct only brainstorming sessions (ideathon), but combing through numerous ideas to evaluate every plan and ensuring the best ideas make it to the top is not always easy. Such ideathon challenges are easy to address with a specialized hackathon software.

A hackathon management platform is the right solution for simplifying this task.  You can assign multiple evaluators, define the evaluation parameters, and consider every idea, with an optional feedback function, if manual validation of ideas is what you look up to. If you fancy automatic evaluation, you must need a crowdsourcing framework based algorithm that gives weightage to top ideas.

Here’s a brief rundown on the features of a hackathon management software:

  • The allocation of multiple judges is downright simple.
  • Scores and ratings can be assigned to ideas.
  • It enables the creation of a real-time leaderboard.
  • It enables public and peer-voting.
  • It is open for real-time suggestions and feedback to promote ideation.

Running Machine Learning (ML) Hackathon 

If you are conducting an ML or a data science hackathon, the hackathon management software is of paramount importance. Its noteworthy feature is auto-evaluation. Here’s how the process works:

  • Users come up with a model and predict test sets.
  • Users’ predictions are compared against original test cases, and the generation of scores is predicated on the evaluation metrics. 
  • They can make multiple submissions and continually work on the model for improvement. 

If you were to evaluate manually,  it would take fifteen minutes to assess a single submission at the least.

What Are the Must-Have Features of a Hackathon Management System?

Here are the features to consider when opting for a hackathon software:

Limited Access and User Restriction

A single sign-on feature  (SSO) is a must-have feature in your software if you are managing an internal hackathon. It will set domain-based restrictions for the participant. Let’s say  XYZ company hosts a hackathon, then only employees of the company can participate using domain name XYZ.com.

The feature also limits a user’s access based on “invite-only.” Those people who register for the event by forwarding the links can be restricted via this feature. Using this feature, one can also easily set geography-specific campaigns.

Third-Party Software Integration

Most companies use communication/collaboration tools such as Teams, Yammer, Slack, and Flack to communicate with their teams. A hackathon software that integrates with these applications lends ease to employees, thus helps them submit ideas, participate, and engage.

Data Protection

Data security makes even top companies vulnerable. The best way to go about securing data is to manage the servers themselves. A comprehensive hackathon management platform also provides the option of hosting the event on the organization’s server as well as a private cloud.

What Features Are Good-To-Have in a Hackathon Management Software?

Some desired features for the hackathon management platform are :

  • It should allow users to create a custom hackathon flow so that they can customize their campaigns as per the need.

  • Running various campaigns across different business units or locations helps in conducting large-scale events.

  • Repeating past successful campaigns is not only plain sailing but also saves a lot of time. Similarly, archiving campaigns make it easy for users to re-visit campaigns and build a creative pipeline of ideas.

Undoubtedly, the hackathon, as a tool, fosters creativity and innovation. A hackathon management platform contributes to scaling your efforts and streamlining the process while ensuring the consistency and simplicity of tasks. In essence, a hackathon software will come in handy if you look for scalability, cross-functional collaboration, efficient idea management, constancy, and ease of access.

How to Organize a Hackathon?

the best way to organise a haclathons..

Let us set some ground rules before we dive into how to organize a hackathon.

Keep realistic expectations, don’t assume that the group will provide ready to apply solutions to your problem. Encourage participation, give the participants an opportunity to learn, don’t develop pressure for perfect results. If you want a product or software in hand at the end of the event, then you shouldn’t read any further; you should look someplace else.

We would all want to run a successful hackathon, and for that, the defining line is when you have a welcoming attitude towards the sufferers of “imposter syndrome”, the newcomers. They feel a level of insecurity surrounded by all the experienced people and a little confused about how to conduct themselves. Try reducing the awkwardness by putting them under team heads.

The Must-Have List of a Good Project Is-

No ambiguity- Clarity in terms of the questions they aim to solve, accompanied by a potent solution.

Achievable- the set time for the projects should be realistic, and groups should feel accomplished at the end.

Open to newcomers- the project should be accommodating to the newcomers with a variety of skills and levels.

Guided by SMEs – The presence of a stakeholder [subject matter expert] helps the group guide through issues and make the project live rather than just a thing of the virtual world.

To add a cherry on top conduct workshops, where you have ice-breakers for the hackathon, telling the participants which skills could be useful.

The Place and Date

Find a decent spacious place to host the event. The premises should be wheelchair–friendly with proper sanitation and last but not the least high-speed Wi-Fi. The seating should be comfortable and ample. Keep in mind that the date of your hackathon should not clash with significant events in the field, prefer the weekdays.

Sponsors

Hackathons cost exuberantly, and you would need someone to support you to cover the cost. Sponsorships are the way out, and sponsors will help you and bear the cost in return for some recognition or some other purpose. So get into the field and secure your sponsor.

Registration

Know your maximum. Invite as many you can handle. Make the form to spread the word and gather information about your participants. The must-haves in the form are-

  • Name
  • Job title
  • If they are new to hackathons?
  • What interests them?
  • Requests/needs

Few Days to Go for the Big Day

  • Find the project leaders who have a clear understanding and lead the teams accordingly, look for the helpers required in the workshop, and don’t forget the email staff who keep track of the online registration.
  • Remodel your media marketing strategy by using hashtags, photos or beginning with a countdown
  • Have your supplies ready [pen, paper, markers, disposables, etc.]
  • A day before, conduct a thorough check of the venue [enough chairs, tables, working Wi-Fi]
  • A reminder mail for all the participants to be on time

The Big Event

The wait is over; you are on the day that you have been planning for. Don’t miss, to begin with, an impressive, engaging introduction about the event, making everyone feel at home. Then you must share knowledge about the history and the purpose of the event. And don’t forget to mention the essentials- the timings for ancillary tasks [food, workshop] and also try a small introduction in groups if possible. Give a special mention to your sponsors. Once the session begins, have people monitoring the hacking rooms, make sure everything happens at the scheduled time and be around to ensure efficiency.

At the concluding session, just be a patient ear to everyone, but keep things quick as well. Finally, thank everyone for their support

The Night After the Hackathon

The online hackathon platform lends itself well to learning purposes. Inspiration and creativity of participants come to the fore during such events. Hackathons become a meeting point of talented people who share their experiences and work together to achieve a common goal.

Hackathons have become great branding and recruiting exercises for the company. They help gain awareness in the developer community. The candidates, on the other hand, have at least one project under their belt. This wagon is a tough one to miss as it has become increasingly important for all organizations to engage with prospective employees and create a community of their own.

Hackathon Management Platform as a Solution for Companies

Now before we wrap up, let us know the offering of both the hackathons.

Internal Hackathons as a Core Offering

The idea of internal hackathons is to promote employee engagement and skilling to meet the need of changing times. The core offering of various organizations that help you organize an internal hackathon is a hackathon platform [which is a systematic, automated system that accepts entries], the content [gives the challenge in the form of MCQs and coding simulators] and an evaluation mechanism [used for certification].

Mercer | Mettl provides you with the services, as mentioned above, of a virtual hackathon platform to implement a smooth internal hackathon.

External Hackathons as a Core Offering

When companies aim at a recruitment strategy and branding initiative, external hackathons are their complete solution. The organizers of external hackathons organize everything from sourcing the candidates for participation to social media boosting to tracking results of the hackathon and certification. The first step of action is to accumulate a pool of innovative, flexible minds through various efforts that involve an invitation mail, a marketing strategy for social media communication with the prospects. It is then followed by the same procedure used in an internal hackathon i.e. the hackathon management platform, the content, and the certification. 

Build the Hackathon Culture

Hackathons are a valuable tool for accelerating organizational change and developing a sustainable culture. Embrace the hackathon culture for better recruitment opportunities, for a stronger and better brand identity and as a tool to engage employees.

How Mercer | Mettl Can Help?

Mettl’s Xathon is an end-to-end hackathon management platform that helps you host world-class hackathons successfully and effortlessly for identifying and hiring the best tech talent and engaging with existing and potential employees and tech communities.

Key Features of Mettl’s Xathon Are:

  • Personalized Event Page to engage participants

  • Quick Scheduling of tasks and stages in one single dashboard

  • Seamless Collaboration with multiple stakeholders – organizers, participants, and judges

  • Submissions Management to keep track of all submissions, their score, and status

  • Leadership Board to get live updates and help in the assessment

With stellar features that help your business grow, Mettl’s Xathon is based on the current and future needs of organizations, measured through a lens of innovation. Mettl’s holistic view, specialized expertise, and deep analytical rigor make Xathon a product that has been the choice of leading organizations like Amazon, Accenture, JP Morgan, Microsoft, and many more. 

With Mettl’s Xathon, you also get access to subject matter experts who help define problem statements in keeping with your objective, theme, and business as well as provide assistance in assessing solutions. Mettl’s 24×7 support team ensures seamless execution to make your event a success story.

You may also like to read: 6 Tips To Rock Your First Hackathon

Sliding CTA_6 Tips to Successfully Conduct Your Hackathon

Originally published May 1 2018, Updated June 17 2020

Divyeshwari Singh

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