1. Introduction to Hackathons
Closely following the Facebooks & Microsofts of the world, more and more tech companies are turning to hackathons, some to propel their brand, others to hire at speed.
Hackathons are events where people from different backgrounds, such as coders, analysts, designers, business strategists, etc.come together to solve various predefined challenges within a specified time frame to create a working solution or prototype of a product/service/business model.
With the world moving towards digital transformation, more and more companies are exploring new avenues for innovation and recruitment, and thus, hackathons and ideathons have been gaining popularity among startups and universities.
With the influx of new technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, bots, etc. that are still not a part of the educational curriculum, hackathons provide the platform for people interested in these new-age technologies to demonstrate their talent and get a chance to work on them.
Not only do hackathons promote participation from multiple disciplines, but they are also perfect for the ever-evolving world of tech and business. A great way to envision a futuristic brand, product, and team, hackathons expedite the innovation process from a couple of months to a couple of days and are a great way to build and cater to an enthusiastic community.
2.1 Internal Hackathon
Internal hackathons are aimed at employee engagement, teamwork, and promoting a culture of creativity and collaboration. A great way to identify existing talent with entrepreneurial potential, hackathons help organizations see their employees in a new light. With no worries of data leakage, organizations can give complete creative freedom to their employees to aid the process of innovation.
Internal hackathons are a great way to give your employees some time off from their daily workload and get cracking on new ideas. Here are some of the benefits of conducting an internal hackathon for your employees:
One Person, Multiple Roles
Employees are often stuck in the monotony of their daily chores, hindering their full potential to create or learn something new. Hackathons can help your employees execute new learnings, find their innate interests and capabilities, and put them to use for the growth of the business. It's a win-win!
You might be surprised by the things your employees are capable of when given time, space, and creative energy. Also, hackathons are a great way to find someone with the entrepreneurial fire and nurturing them for a strategy role. Hackathons can help you create new roles for existing employees or even identify training needs where applicable.
Future-Proof Your Business
Hackathons might result in some great ideas that can be immediately acted upon and some others which can be put in the future roadmap of the business to be revisited at an opportune moment. Events like these can help organizations share their future vision with their employees and work towards future-proofing the company , together, through the continued practice of innovation-led-hackathons.
While hackathons are considered a playground for coders and developers, they often bring together technology and non-engineering teams for an inclusive and innovative team-building experience for a fruitful exchange of perspectives.
- Paving the road to business innovation by crowdsourcing ideas from existing employees.
- Employee engagement through vision sharing and collaboration.
- Training needs identification through gauging interest.
- Encouraging a platform for learning, development, and innovation.
- Talent mobility through high potential recognition.
c) Success Metrics
Rate of Participation - Participation and interest from existing employees.
Volume of ideas exchanged and learnings generated.
Conversion Rate - Actionable prototypes and business strategies born out of the hackathon.
Impact on the Team - A sense of shared vision and goals.
2.2 External Hackathons
External hackathons are a great platform to invite outside talent, interact with a community, and kickstart open innovation. Often external hackathons are a way to get media coverage, start a dialogue with tech communities, and carry out recruitment. While external hackathons do demand more planning, they also cast a wider web of dialogue and engagement with the outside world interested in innovation.
a) Advantages & Objectives
The benefits and objectives often overlap when conducting an external hackathon.
New People, New Technologies
It is difficult to always keep a tab on changing technologies and even more difficult to adopt one. External hackathons serve as a playground for new people and new technologies to step in and innovate. Your organization and employees might be set in their ways, using the same technology, and while there's nothing wrong with it, there's always a new way to do the same thing, and hackathons can help you realize the same.
At a time when new technologies like AI, ML, Blockchain, etc.are being used globally at every step to move closer to digital transformation, hackathons can help you rope in these new technologies and people who can be a source of learning.
Create a media buzz by associating yourself with a hackathon and emerging as the voice of innovation. Make your brand known to a global audience by publicizing your brand by concocting an excellent theme for your hackathon. Whether your organization is looking for funding from potential VCs or hiring, hackathons can help you get noticed.
The More the Merrier
Hackathons are a great way to get together with like-minded individuals and gallop through persistent business challenges through innovative and novel solutions. Hackathons can also be used by organizations to test their new products or business offerings on a diverse and creative group and get unbiased feedback and points for improvement.
One of the most popular uses of external hackathons is to cut short the recruitment process that is usually spread over a couple of weeks to just a few days, and see the candidate in action. Hackathons provide an exceptional platform to assess a candidate on their technical skills, people skills, and time management skills, etc. By giving organizations inroads into tech communities and innovators, hackathons help build a talent pipeline to engage with in the future.
b) Success Metrics
Rate of Participation - Participation and interest from innovators and changemakers.
Volume of ideas exchanged, learnings generated, new technologies utilized, business opportunities created.
Conversion Rate - Actionable prototypes and potential startups/products born out of the hackathon.
Participant feedback and impact on the community.
c) Target Audience
While the common understanding of hackathon participants is coders and analysts, a more unorthodox approach can open your hackathon to problem-solvers in general and result in better engagement and creativity.
A great way to balance out teams is to have both quantitative and qualitative minds working together. Even if some team members don’t possess technical skills like programming or data analytics, they can contribute to the ideation phase of the hackathon.
The onsite hackathon invites participants to an actual physical space where team members sit together through the entire span of the event to come up with solutions. Needless to say, onsite hackathons require the most amount of planning and logistics among all other modes of engagement. Right from booking a spacious venue to arranging food for all participants, onsite hackathons need months of planning and spotless execution to create an atmosphere that encourages ideation.
Online hackathons use the World Wide Web to engage participants across the globe, without any logistical barriers. Most organizations use a partner platform to conduct their online hackathon. Online platforms allow a certain degree of automation in the process, making it less burdensome for the organizers.
Online hackathons give organizations the freedom to spend more on marketing and prizes as the event logistical costs are not very high. They also enjoy the prerogative to run for a longer duration and hence may result in better quality solutions.
As the name suggests, hybrid hackathons are a mix of part online and part offline hackathons. Most organizations choose to conduct the first few stages in the online mode, and final presentations of the product prototype are onsite at a chosen venue.
While both online and offline hackathons have their pros and cons, a hybrid hackathon allows organizations to achieve their objectives through the right mode , with the right intensity.
Usually of longer duration than both online and offline hackathons, hybrid hackathons are less capital intensive than onsite hackathons as only a few chosen teams are hosted at the venue. They pack all the advantages of both kinds of hackathons and are a win-win for both organizers and participants.
4.1 Primary Decisions
It is essential for you to first decide the type and mode of your hackathon.
They are important considerations and will feed into your primary decision-makers. Ideally, a hackathon is a break from the regular workday and should be planned keeping that in mind. It should be short, spanning between a day or two, if it is a continuous onsite event. While an online or hybrid mode of engagement can last up to 2 weeks or more, depending on the scale of the hackathon, ensure that you choose a weekend for the onsite events for maximum participation.
Location agnostic events are easy to execute while onsite or mixed hackathons need several months of planning and booking for a successful and seamless execution. The event is not just what happens on the D-day but everything that builds up to it. In the case of onsite events, choose a location that is central and easy to access.
The budget of the hackathon will be determined by its type and mode, and will, in turn, determine the scale, duration, and prizes for the event. It is of utmost importance to ensure that the top management in your organization is on board for conducting a hackathon, and the objectives and success metrics are laid down in close discussion with them to ensure proper resource allocation.
Every hackathon is distinctive and your organization can bring its own uniqueness to the table with the kind of challenges they put forth, the number of rounds, the assessment method, and the prizes they give away - everything is a reflection of the brand you wish to portray through this hackathon.
Want to start a dialogue with potential employees, build an interactive tech community, find an innovative solution to your product, support a social cause, or create a culture of collaboration amongst your employees? Hackathons are the answer to all of these!
Hackathons can contribute to and enrich the innovation process, help identify new talent, and create a unique competitive advantage in a corporate setting.
Hackathons can help you understand, establish and improve your position as an employer and as a brand in the market, better aligning you to your audience and the means to create traction among them.
a) Brand Positioning
Your organization might be using the latest and greatest technology and creating ground-breaking products/services, but if your brand is not known to the world for its innovation, it is time to make some buzz. And hackathons are the perfect way to do it!
While you can argue in support of a more traditional marketing campaign to increase your brand visibility, your marketing efforts should reflect the innovation your organization stands for. Hackathons are a great way to position yourself at the forefront of innovation while sharing your vision with the community.
A hackathon can contribute to building an employer brand for you to ease your recruiting efforts. It can help you carve a suitable identity for yourself and your product/service by putting it out for a broader community to use, also helping your company showcase values and any social causes they may support.
Many international universities, as well as organizations, host hackathons to encourage diversity, inclusivity, and women in tech. Larger organizations like Microsoft often host internal hackathons, across the globe, in association with NGOs to work on real-world problems.
In the wake of Women's Day, Amazon held a hackathon/ideathon called #WOW 2019 i.e., Women of the World 2019, to diversify their hiring event and hire women across technical and non-technical roles.
They held a campus recruiting drive on Mettl's hackathon platform, Xathon, to hire women from E-schools and B-schools of India.
Amazon also conducted an online hackathon, called the AWS Educate Challenge, co-organized by Mettl in 2018.
Program members of AWS Educate India were encouraged to participate in solving real-world problems surrounding healthcare, environment, education, governance, etc. The objective of the hackathon was to increase knowledge around Amazon's cloud computing, Alexa, and build AWS Educate as a brand. The winners were awarded Amazon credits and Amazon products like Echo, Kindle, etc. in addition to other partner prizes.
The hiring landscape is undergoing a wave of change due to digital transformation and the advent of technology. More and more companies are moving away from traditional hiring processes and trying out new tools and technologies to make hiring a pleasant experience for both the recruiter as well as the candidate. From sourcing to selecting, each stage in the recruitment process is witnessing the use of new-age technology.
According to Mettl's Tech Hiring & Technology Adoption Trends 2019 report, sourcing quality candidates is one of the biggest challenges faced by 42% of organizations, followed by a longer lead time and unstructured processes.
With technology playing a significant role, hiring processes are getting revamped across the world. Metrics like cost and time to hire are being paid attention when striving to hire a quality candidate for your organization.
"While in-person job interviews are still a battle-tested way to screen tech talent, they come with a major shortcoming. They don't give companies a robust sneak-peek at how the person will perform in the role. Good news! Hackathons can come to the rescue and 11X your recruitment."
- Jagoda Wieczorek, HR Manager, ResumeLab.
With the focus shifting on using technology to increase efficiency, recruiters are increasingly turning to tech events, social media, and hackathons to source candidates and finding novel ways to increase interest from potential employees.
A great way to make inroads into the tech community, building a brand name, and using it as a hiring tool, especially for campus hiring, hackathons are the new fad in tech recruitment. Based on the ideas of innovation, problem-solving, and prototyping, Hackathons create a business simulation to test candidates on their real skills skills.
With numerous hackathon platforms available in the market, many SMEs are using hackathons for their campus hiring. An excellent way for companies to introduce themselves and for participants to showcase their skills, hackathons are the single most effective way to source, screen, and select candidates. A form of gamifying hiring, hackathons make recruitment interactive and rewarding for candidates as well as recruiters.
Resumes and awkward personal questions are passe; conducting hackathons is the most effective way to filter out under skilled candidates. Hackathons provide recruiters a one-stop-shop to assess candidates on their skill, time management, problem-solving, and people skills.
Sourcing is the first and most important step in the recruitment process as it is the first filter that defines the kind of candidates you are getting.
Hence, it is essential to have a robust sourcing strategy in place so that there is no gap between expectations and results when it comes to new hiring.
With an increasing demand for tech candidates across industries and regions, sourcing of quality candidates is one of the biggest challenges faced by recruiters. Hackathons and ideathons can emerge as holistic recruitment platforms which automates sourcing by inviting participants who are interested in the event and thus ensuring quality hiring.
Hackathons are also a great way to source passive candidates. Tech professionals are always on the lookout for exciting new challenges to work on and if you market your hackathon well, you might invite the curiosity of passive candidates to look at your brand and problem, even participate in it. Another great advantage of conducting a hackathon is to create a talent pipeline for future hiring needs.
It is an excellent idea to source candidates through a hackathon to ensure quality and intent.
Hackathons are a great way to gather and review a vast pool of talent in a short time. Often, long and unstructured screening processes result in a loss of interest of candidates and wastage of time for recruiters.
Hackathons guarantee an excellent assessment process within a very short time frame. Not only do recruiters get acquainted to a participant's core skills, but hackathons are a great platform to analyze the cognitive and behavioral parameters required by the employer.
In a fast-changing landscape of work, learning agility and problem-solving are few of the most desired skills in a potential employee. Hackathons give organizations a ground to test participants on entrepreneurial innovation, high order and time-bound problem-solving, effective communication, compatibility with a team and business objectives.
With the right challenge, hackathons can prove to be a definitive step towards offering someone a position in your organization.
"During the hackathon, we can test candidates' programming skills on a real project, (while traditional recruitment allows us to test them using short, technical tasks). During the event, we observe the candidate's behavior, see how he reacts to stress and cooperates with peers (even the best personality tests will not replace it!)."
- Pete Sosnowski, VP & Co-Founder, Zety.
iii) Time-To-Hire & Cost-Of-Hire
Long and unstructured processes often result in losing out on the right tech talent, making it a major challenge in the tech recruitment process.
According to the Tech Hiring & Technology Adoption Trends 2019 report, a tech position on an average takes about a month to close.
However, hackathons solve this problem as they are time-bound, and one can close a position in as short a span as three days.
While onsite hackathons entail some planning and execution cost, online hackathons can be just as effective with a minimal cost involved to market the event. As compared to the advantages of conducting a hackathon, like brand positioning, making inroads into the tech community, building a talent pipeline, and creating a name for yourself to reckon within the industry, hackathons solve problems for a bigger picture and easily justify the cost involved in both an online or offline event.
"Hackathons give us access to a large talent pool in one place and time, while during traditional interviews, we meet one candidate at a time. So it's a real-time and money saver as we are concentrating our hiring efforts on this one event. One "marathon" can get us a handful of candidates that proved they have the skills to do what we expect them to do at work. Plus, when organizing an online marathon, you're not limited geographically - you can connect with talents from around the world."
- Pete Sosnowski, VP & Co-Founder, Zety.
In a candidate-driven market, more and more organizations are trying their best to keep their candidates as well as employees engaged through interactive means.
Hackathons fit the bill for a great candidate experience by creating a 'day-in-the-life' situation for participants to experience. A great way to showcase company culture and values, hackathons provide a conducive environment for participants.
Hackathons that provide participants with exciting challenges, giving them an actual idea of the product roadmap, are always a great way to break the ice with potential employees. The adrenaline rush, the pumped-up energy, and the go-getter vibe make hackathons the perfect base to deliver a great candidate experience.
Hackathons are slowly replacing traditional hiring processes and consideration factors such as academics and simple interview questions. Tech Hiring & Technology Adoption Trends 2019 states that "20% of organizations chose proficiency in the required tech skills as a top evaluation criterion when looking to hire, followed by 18% of employers who also focus closely on cognitive ability and learning agility". This change in evaluation criteria has made hackathons an increasingly popular way of recruiting the ideal candidate.
While organizations are still supporting the post-hackathon scenario with traditional processes of selection, it can be predicted that as the demand for tech talent continues to grow, hackathons, especially online, will eventually become a more regular part of the recruitment process due to its ease and accessibility of hundreds of global participants.
A business product is always in need of new perspectives and ideas to evolve, and a great way to put your product for testing and improvement is by crowdsourcing through hackathons.
Hackathons are a classic example of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ phenomenon, which can be dated back to Aristotle. One of the most common examples of this is a contest to estimate the weight of an ox at a country fair in Plymouth in 1906. 800 people participated in it and statisticians observed that the median guess was closer to the actual weight of the ox. The median came to be within 1% of the actual weight, while no individual guesses came so close.
It means that while all of us individually try our best to work to the best of our abilities, the collective ability of a group will always provide better results and solutions. Thus, hackathons are a great way to innovate a business problem/product by inspiring participants with the right theme and problem statement. If your brand or product excites tech professionals, they will surely step up to the challenge.
“Since the hackathon’s participants work on real projects, supervised by more experienced professionals, the chances are that the end product might be an actual, finished product ready to be recycled for the company's use. Just think of it, you're gathering a handful of talented folks, they will most likely use all their creative powers to come up with a solid product/ idea.”
- Pete Sosnowski, VP & Co-Founder, Zety.
Automation and digital transformation are affecting businesses in all domains. Hackathons are not just for tech companies today, every business is relying on technology ,directly or indirectly. In today's consumer-driven market, more and more companies want to use technology to understand customer psyche better to be able to track usability, personalize their experience, and build more products. Hackathons help your business innovate by bringing together the best of minds.
Hackathons are increasingly becoming a norm in the industry as they provide a playground for problem solvers to explore endless possibilities and deep dive for a fixed but continuous stretch of time. Usually a MVP (minimum viable product) takes months of planning and execution, but what makes a hackathon unique is its ability to result in a prototype or MVP in one-tenth of that time. There is hardly any other situation that nearly produces the same result as a hackathon.
Hackathons don’t just guarantee innovation, they guarantee innovation at a speed, which is exactly what the tech culture intends to achieve. The agility of a hackathon as an event is exceptional.
Innovation can also be affected by heterogeneity. With an online hackathon, you can solve for diversity and bring together people from different walks of life, scattered across the globe, to solve a problem that affects a larger community.
Both internal and external hackathons are a great way to innovate your product and help you engage with a community of enthusiastic problem-solvers. A reliable solution for continuous innovation, hackathons prove to be quite advantageous and effective in a world where the tech industry is quite competitive for innovation as well as its employees.
Hackathons are a reservoir of innovation, and only a good problem statement can produce the desired result. Of course, the first step towards formulating a problem statement is to figure out the prerequisites - it should be the first step when deciding to conduct a hackathon. Do ensure that you have defined the objective of the hackathon, in keeping with your business or product and that your leadership is on board with these objectives. Your leadership can bring a visionary angle to the discussion as they know the business and its future roadmap like no one else. Identify your target audience, the type of hackathon you want to conduct, and its mode of engagement.
Choosing a problem statement that a wider audience can relate to will ensure whole-hearted solutions, a better participation rate, and a deeper level of engagement. The problem statement is important for both the organizers as well as the participants. A good problem statement embodies the wider objective of the hackathon that inspires participants to create an innovative solution that solves a real need.
Few Tips on How to Hit the Target with Your Problem Statement:
Tie the problem statement with the eventual impact to make it actionable
If you are looking at benefitting your product/business with this hackathon, make sure to interact with product managers and the company leadership to identify topics that require business innovation.
Make sure your problem statement generates a sense of interest and curiosity in participants. Get your marketing team on board to give words to your ideas to communicate effectively.
Answer all the questions related to your objective and the problem statement at hand - what, why, its need, and its use case, etc.
Build credibility by providing data or resources that support your problem statement. It could be a preliminary reading provided to the participants.
The problem statement needs to cover the current state of the situation at hand, the final impact, and where the gap lies. For this, define the theme - it could be a unique technology like blockchain, a well-defined business problem, or a trending topic in the industry. When deciding the theme of your hackathon, think of the future roadmap of your business, your most crucial business obstacle, and/or the trends you want to adopt in your business strategy.
It is likely that you have enough research and insights around the industry your business functions in. Put these market insights to use when deciding your theme and problem statement, and then let participants surprise you with their innovative solutions and prototype.
JP Morgan, a multinational investment bank, organized a 36-hour hackathon called the Quant Challenge for undergraduate students of IIT where they wanted to find a solution to the daily problems, their quantitative research and data analytics teams were facing, by using machine learning and derivative modeling. They formulated the problem statement by emphasizing on their current state, detailed context and supporting data, where they were struggling, and the expected outcome.
4.4 Role of Marketing & Operations
Successful hackathons are often a meeting point of outstanding marketing efforts, remarkable operational efficiency, and execution. The planning is indispensable to its success.
To make any event large-scale, one needs to build anticipation through marketing efforts. Hackathons are no different. Many organizations often encounter a challenge while attracting the right kind of participation for the hackathon, something that can be achieved through marketing campaigns. In fact, marketing just doesn't help a hackathon get awareness and participation to start with, it also ensures to leave a lasting impression of the event through followup email campaigns thanking participants who found success, asking for feedback, and subscription for the company's event calendar.
Make sure to keep your marketing in the loop about all important aspects of the event, like who, what, how, where, when, and the prizes to be won. Most tech enthusiasts have one motive or another to participate in a hackathon, make sure you make it worth their while by focusing on advertising the rewards, which could be fame, a job, an internship, a fixed sum of money, goodies, networking, or anything else that your hackathon is promising its winners.
While one could take the traditional method of marketing campaigns to popularize the event, another way to market your event is to find a platform partner and build on their network of participants and judges to get the maximum outreach. Choosing the right hackathon platform makes conducting a platform easier due to built-in features that support your marketing efforts like social sharing and email triggers.
Operationally, if you are hosting an offline-onsite hackathon, you will need to arrange for a spacious venue, and create an environment that encourages uninterrupted working. If your hackathon is spread over days, then an endless flow of food and resting areas for participants takes precedence.
However, more and more organizations are leaning towards organizing online hackathons due to the flexibility they offer to both the organizers as well as participants. Organizers save a lot of logistical costs, it becomes easier to increase the scale of the event, and participants can work from their comfort zones.
Hackathons might seem like a long, endless list of things to do, but it can be broadly categorized into six easy steps - Ideating the hackathon/ideathon, organizing the event, inviting participants, choosing judges, reviewing submissions, and declaring winners.
5.1 Six Steps to Conducting a Successful Hackathon or Ideathon:
- Hackathons start and end with ideation. Once you are clear about the objective of your hackathon, you can ideate around themes, challenges, stages, participants, judges, and everything else required for the hackathon. You might need to set up a committee or assign a dedicated person for the ideation and execution of a hackathon.
- Organizing a hackathon requires a flexible and agile platform that lets you conduct a hackathon effortlessly. When you choose a platform, ensure that it can help you create a personalized landing page. The landing page of your event is one of the most critical aspects of the hackathon, as it is the first interacting page with participants and holds all essential and critical information about the event. This page needs to represent your brand as well as the hackathon. This one page needs to be the single go-to page for all things related to your hackathon.
- Participants are the first and foremost reason for your hackathon, so you want to ensure you have the maximum outreach. This is where you will need the help of your friends in marketing. Decide on how many participants you need to make it a successful event, and then think backward. Ensure that the hackathon platform you use easily lets you share your event on social media platforms for more traction. Choose a platform that makes it easier for participants to create teams, strategize, and collaborate in a single platform. The more difficult your hackathon platform is to interact with, the more chances that participants will drop out.
- Choosing the right panel of judges can surely help in branding your hackathon better and attracting participants. Make sure the judges are celebrated names in the industry or come with their following for easy marketing. When you choose a hackathon platform, choose partners who can help you reach out to a wider network of not just participants but also judges.
- One of the most challenging aspects of conducting a hackathon is to review submissions in a fair and timely manner. Organizations should lay down parameters at the start so that judges can effectively grade all the submissions.
- Your hackathon platform should be the reservoir of everything related to the event. A live leadership board can boost the participant's enthusiasm, ensure transparency, and easily track winners after putting together the performance of every team at every stage.
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.
6.1 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 24x7 support team ensures seamless execution to make your event a success story.
Mercer | Mettl provides an Online Assessment Platform which delivers efficient, cost-effective, and technology-driven skill assessments that help organizations build winning teams by taking credible people decisions across two key areas: Acquisition and Development.
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