Here at VerticalResponse, we recently held our first internal hackathon. What exactly is a hackathon? It’s an event also known as a codefest or a hack day in which participants work collaboratively and intensely on various software and sometimes hardware projects for your company. The event can last a day or a week, can include internal employees and/or external participants, and should result in potentially useable software. Final results are then voted upon by a panel of judges and prizes are typically awarded.

During our hackathon, we had 5 teams made up of VerticalResponse employees from engineering, marketing, sales, support, and product. The collaborative nature of a hackathon across all departments made for great company interaction and morale, as well as a vehicle for promoting awareness around our new REST API.

Why Host an Internal Hackathon?

Why should you consider hosting an internal hackathon at your own company? Aside from the reasons mentioned above, it’s a great way to cultivate ideas and develop additional functionality for your platform or product. Without a hackathon, it’s often difficult for your developers to peel themselves away from development of the core product and to dedicate a day to innovation with your platform. With that, here are 10 tips for hosting your own successful internal hackathon:

Hackathon Tips

1. Offer ideas as inspiration, but don’t limit your hackers’ ability to get creative.

2. Establish clear rules and guidelines, and stick to them.

3. Emphasize that a working prototype is required in order to be eligible for a prize. This will encourage both productivity and quality.

4. Offer a prize or prizes that are substantial enough to attract participation and quality. A trophy is excellent for bragging rights and company morale.

5. Get schwag! Print t-shirts for the event to give your hackers – They’re great for camaraderie and may encourage more folks to get involved next time.

6. Encourage as much company participation as possible and across all departments. Although ultimately each team will need at least one member with the ability to code, other company members undoubtedly will contribute ideas.

7. Make sure you have a comfortable setup with enough plugs, wi-fi, and even conference rooms if teams want to work with a bit of privacy.

8. Provide enough food and drinks for all participants, keeping in mind healthy alternatives and diet restrictions.

9. Choose a panel of judges that will judge the teams’ submissions in a fair, thoughtful, and objective manner.

10. Given that some cool working prototypes and demos will be created, make it an initiative for your product team to follow through on incorporating the application or functionality into the core product. The ultimate win is if a prototype from the hackathon makes it into production!

The results of the VerticalResponse hackathon were overwhelmingly positive. Each team came up with creative and innovative prototypes, and the competition was fierce. Our judges had a challenging time crowning a champion. The top two teams are now working with our product team on next steps for introducing their applications into our core platform. The VerticalResponse team can’t wait to hold another hackathon to bring even more participants and awesome ideas, ideas we can hopefully pass on to our customers.

Have you held or attended a hackathon? If so, add to our list of tips in the comments section below.

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