How to Organize an Internal Hackathon?

04 Feb, 2020 | 7 minutes read

How did I organize a company Hackathon?

According to Wikipedia, a Hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is a design sprint-like event; often, in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, domain experts, and others collaborate intensively on software projects. The aim of hackathons is to create software or hardware solutions, give valuable ideas or provide powerful senior Jedi concepts until the event ends. Most Hackathons have a certain topic and can be focused on a certain language, a technology, an operating system, an application etc.

But what is the idea behind a Hackathon? Is it worth organizing one in your company? What are all the benefits you can gain out of it? In the following article, I will talk about my personal experience in organizing InterHack (our company hackathon) from idea to realization and all you need to do to make your event worthwhile.

Define your objectives

The most important thing when organizing any kind of event is to ask yourself why do you do it. The same goes for a Hackathon. You need to know the Why. If you find the answer it will be a lot easier for you to convince management to organize it and to encourage other people to take part in it.

Some of the reasons why you would like to organize such an event can be the following:

Team building and bonding

One thing that you have as a guarantee on an internal Hackathon is that people involved in it will spend the day together and will have a chance for bonding. You can consider the event as a team-building of some kind. Because employees will be side by side working together on solving the problem, brainstorming ideas, eating, drinking coffee, hanging out and working with people they normally do not, and last, but not least they will have fun ? 

Getting quality ideas

One of the main reasons for organizing an internal or a company hackathon is that all employees are brainstorming and bringing out new, innovative and creative ideas that might be turned into an actual service or a product.

At InterHack we had teams brainstorming and building a system that will manage employee skills in a company and finding interesting and complex relationships among Employees, Skills, Projects, and Practices using Neo4j. The ideas we gathered will be used to create and improve internal systems.

Encouraging the innovation process

Promoting innovative ways of thinking and encouraging the innovation process is very important for any company willing to grow. Company hackathons are the most suitable tool for inspiring people to think outside of the box, get out of their comfort zone and open their minds towards new ways of thinking.

In that manner hosting a hackathon is the perfect way to promote innovative culture at the lowest cost possible.

Promoting a collaborative work environment

Hackathons are basically a competition, and this competitive atmosphere can bring out the best in people and make them work closely together which ultimately leads to bonding and imposing a collaborative working environment. Working on a challenge together is a great opportunity to get to know your colleagues and collaborate with each of them, which in turn leads to encouraging and boosting a collaborative work environment.

Organize the hackathon

After you have found your “why” it is time to start preparing for the event. But organizing any kind of event is not easy, especially if you want to make it perfect. There are some things you need to keep in mind. Here is the checklist I use unfolding all the things you need to consider:

Conduct research on the perfect time and location

Organizing an event without people is doomed to fail. That is why making sure you have attendees is one of the most important things. But how do you know if people are willing to attend, and what is the best time and place for them? It is simple: just ask. I conducted a survey and got feedback which helped me organize the event and generating better results. Most people voted for Friday as the best day to host the event, and as for location they choose our office.

It is very important to make sure you have time and location set before you even think of planning logistics and marketing.

Define rules

As mentioned, hackathons are mostly organized around a specific technology or subject which can be reported on the day of the event. To make the most of the day and get as quality ideas as possible we have sent InterHack’s theme to everyone two months prior to the event.

People had time to explore the technology, find out more and be more comfortable on the day of the event. Most people fear the unknown so we found that it is best if we announce the theme so they will know the direction InterHack will take.

Tell everyone about the Hackathon

The most important thing for having a successful event is having more people attend. That is why you need to make sure you spread the word as early as possible.  This will help you prepare things on time and have an impeccable organization. I made a short presentation about the event to make things clearer and raise interest among people participating in the event.

I talked to potential attendants and most of them gave me feedback that it would be super helpful if they have a short presentation explaining the agenda, the plans for the day, the problem, who can participate, what is expected etc.

Also, one week before the event I made a poster specifying the agenda, the location, and the teams participating. I placed it in the kitchen, a place where I know everyone passes by at least once a day. I also placed a board on the entrance of the company announcing InterHack and just wrote the date and time of the event.

Get help

Organizing such an event requires a lot of effort and sometimes can’t be done by a single person. There are a lot of things that need to be done on the spot on the day of the event, like leaving coffee and mugs, water, juice, food, necessary equipment, and so on. It is the part that takes the most time and needs to be done in a short interval, which is challenging. So, calling out people to help out and support you during the event is a great idea.

Take pictures and record the event

If you don’t document the event it’s like you didn’t have an event at all. Being prepared to capture the whole day is very important because you don’t know when a great moment worth remembering will arise. First, you need pictures before the event so you can capture the atmosphere early on. After that having some fun team pictures showcasing the atmosphere and excitement would be great.  Also, don’t forget to make some on-the-spot live interviews and make sure you go live on social networks. Instagram and Facebook stories are a perfect way to showcase the hackathon atmosphere.

This is a huge marketing and sales opportunity you don’t want to miss out on, and if you do it right people will be able to feel the event and the magic Hackathons bring which will result in them wanting to be a part of the next one.

Documenting the event is also a great opportunity to check up on things and make sure everything is going smoothly.

Provide collaterals and music

If you want to organize the event properly you will need to have a list of collaterals needed for the day. Before printing out anything I came up with a name and logo of the event (you can see it at the beginning). After I got a list of people attending (20+) I started planning necessary collaterals.

Here is my must-have list:

  1. Notebooks and pens printed with the event logo
  2. Badges printed with the event logo
  3. Cups printed with the logo
  4. Order cookies with logo (if you want to add extra value for participants) 
  5. Presentation and a presentation beam
  6. Buy drinks
  7. Order food
  8. Whiteboards
  9. Markers
  10. Check Internet connection
  11. Speakers
  12. Choose music and choose time intervals for playing it  
  13. Organize video recordings and photoshoots during the day

Hackathon day

As I mentioned I organized the Hackathon, InterHack during working hours on a working day. All in all, teams had seven hours to code, work on ideas and develop solutions. So, what can you really do in just seven hours? Well, pretty much it seems! The teams, which were decided prior to the event, created three separate solutions using Node4j and thanks to the preparatory e-mail they managed to organize themselves and provide solutions.  We had two teams working in Bitola and one in Skopje.

If you want to know the details of the winning team and what they managed to do in just seven hours don’t miss our next blog which will be an interview with the winning team and a more detailed explanation of the challenge the teams worked on.

To sum it all up:

Organizing these types of events has a lot of challenges, like finding people to participate, putting people who don’t work together daily at the same table, preparing a task that can be completed in such short time intervals, arranging food and drinks for people you don’t know that well and so on.

However, organizing InterHack gave a positive boost to everyone involved in it. It was a great opportunity to create a lot of great content. All our employees were able to be part of it, which was a chance for a lot of people who never work together to get to know each other a little better. After the event, I sent a survey and everyone gave positive feedback and is already asking me when is the next one.

So, if you are having doubts about organizing a company Hackathon, don’t! Take the chance and just do it! Believe me, it will be worth it.

In the end, I just want to say thank you to everyone that were part of InterHack! It is because of you that we call InterHack a success!