Get awesome marketing content related to Hiring & L&D in your inbox each week

Stay up-to-date with the latest marketing, sales, and service tips and news

Talent Assessment | 8 Min Read

What The Hack Are Hackathons

What is a Hackathon?

A hackathon involves 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 to create a prototype, generally held over the weekend. The goal is to develop usable or prototype software.

In the mid to late 2000s, corporate hackathons spread like wildfire 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 internally.

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

The speed and effectiveness of a business hackathon reeks of awesomeness. They are the shortest route to achieve substantial outcomes and accelerate a product roadmap towards innovation. Not all business hackathons are the same, but yes, the ground rule, “Build from scratch”, is never compromised. Based on their objectives, business hackathons come in various types.

Various Types of Hackathons

Hackathons are usually of 2 types – Internal and External. Internal hackathons primarily focus on the people the company engages with, i.e. its employees, and external hackathons have participants from outside the boundaries of the organization.

Internal and External Hackathons can be sub-categorized for the purposes 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.
  • Social cause- Social hackathons are 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 and promoting inclusivity.

The Hackathon Business Model: Introducing the Culture of Innovation in Companies

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

The need for constant innovation and creation in a competitive landscape is persuading companies to host a business hackathon. Hence what better way than adopting a hackathon business model to conduct a series of hackathons to reap a meatier ROI with better recruitment, employee engagement, and product prototyping. Business hackathons are not mere sleepover events; they are initiatives for a better future.

Apurva Dalal, an Ex-Googler and VP Engineering at Komli Media, uses the hackathon business model to let his employees break away from the rigmarole of their daily work responsibilities to explore their creative side and, in the process not just come up with new ideas but also, have fun. He further adds that hackathons provide a platform for employees to express themselves freely.

Use Cases of Internal & External Hackathons

Use cases for internal & external hackathons

External Hackathons

If you want to hack the old recruitment strategies and brand your initiatives, then an external corporate hackathon seems appropriate for the job.

Hackathons as a Recruitment Tool

Hiring the right person has always 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 corporate hackathons as a recruitment tool has turned convenience up a notch for companies. 

In the age of automation, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and the swiftly transforming technological landscape, hackathons seem to be all the rage for 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.

Here’s 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 Holistic Overview

What companies want is to get their hands on the best candidates. And for that, a corporate hackathon is one of the best ways 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. Corporate hackathons 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 would win the contest but wanted to observe the participants’ approach and choose someone who has a go-getter attitude and plays with the team. The participant who ultimately got selected was not even a member of the winning team. What the individual demonstrated was a positive attitude, even in the high-stress environment that ensued.

iii) Better Stakeholder Experience

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

Corporate hackathons are now replacing the age-old tiring campus hiring drives 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.

Hackathons 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.

Business Hackathons as Brand Enhancers

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 corporate 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 at the core of innovation, which is why companies like Amazon, Microsoft, J.P. Morgan, HCL, etc. conduct hackathons – for honest, constructive, and collaborative feedback. From a marketing and PR perspective, getting the word out at a good business 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 joinees 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.

Business hackathons are a great way of promoting a work culture focused on innovation and creating professional bonding among existing employees.

The journey of hackathons has been fascinating, from the start-up garage to the corporate mainstage. 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 the hackathon business model. So let us see what our employees want and what the hackathons can offer.


Hackathons as a Skilling Tool

In this era of dynamism, where skills are changing rapidly, upskilling employees 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 high potential employees who can be further skilled and take the helm of leadership. This is how an internal hackathon can contribute to identifying and skilling employees in an organization.

Benefits of a Corporate Hackathon

Learning Tool:

  • Above all, corporate hackathons 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. Hackathons 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.

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.

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.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. Hackathons provides an opportunity for all the ideas and professions to come together to make an impressive product. Hackathons promote a culture of innovation outside the company and create a culture of belonging in the workplace.

How Mercer | Mettl Can Help?

Mercer | Mettl is a hackathon company that provides an end-to-end hackathon management platform to 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.

Mercer | Mettl Xathon: A Hackathon Platform to conduct Online Hackathons, Ideathons and Contests


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 result declaration

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, JP Morgan, Microsoft, and many more. 

With Mettl’s Xathon, you also get access to subject matter experts who help with hackathon ideas for your company, 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.

Sliding CTA_6 Tips to Successfully Conduct Your Hackathon

Originally published May 1 2018, Updated July 28 2021

Divyeshwari Singh

Written by

About This Topic

A hackathon or ideathon is an event where people with different skill sets come together to solve predefined challenges within a specified time frame. Ideathons and hackathons are increasingly being used for corporate branding, hiring at speed, innovating and engaging employees.

Related Products

Hackathon & Ideathon Platform From Mercer Mettl

Foster Innovation with Our Online Hackathon And Ideathon Platform

Know More

Related posts

Would you like to comment?


Please write a comment before submitting


Thanks for submitting the comment. We’ll post the comment once its verified.

Get awesome marketing content related to Hiring & L&D in your inbox each week

Stay up-to-date with the latest marketing, sales, and service tips and news