Think Hackathons, and immediately an image of dedicated, quiet and focussed coders is evoked, writing codes in their glory, triumphing removal of bugs and collaborating with each other. For the uninitiated, a hackathon – which can last a single day or span over a few days – is a famous and frequent occurrence in the land of software and technology, wherein extensive amount of work is done at breakneck speed and coders collaborate substantially to work around challenges. Hackathons organised by IT giants are actually much coveted events, wherein big things at stake, and are looked up to for their path-breaking innovation. For example, hackathons have been a regular feature at Facebook, and this is where the instant messaging feature of Facebook Chat, and the time-lapse tool Hyperlapse of Instagram were conceptualised.
The concept of Hackathons isn’t exactly new, and has managed to stick around, simply because it delivers results – if executed carefully. They have been known to stimulate innovation, improve employee and community engagement, lend to corporate branding, and accomplish big tasks in lesser time. For the participant, it becomes an opportunity to interact with others, improve their soft-skills and team-player gene, network, and very importantly win the (usually grand) prize. With such lucrative buy-in from both the organisation and the employee, hackathons are slowly getting much more attention than they did in the past, but this spotlight is largely restricted to IT and software. However, slowly but surely, organisations from others sectors have also taken a liking to the concept and are trying to replicate the same structure in their environment. We explore whether such exercises can be executed in the Indian corporate, especially start-ups – which is often cited with lack of innovation – and if so, what are the challenges of the same.
Abhinav Choudhary, Co-Founder, Smartprix.com, says, “Hackathons could perhaps work for professions outside of IT if you are looking for solutions to a specific problem. Putting more brains at work, with a time limitation, could provide with a number of viable solutions to a specific problem, and later the best ideas could be rewarded, prototyped and tested.” The structure of the process is such that it works best in finding solutions to unique and pre-defined challenges, rather than a brain-storming about processes and strategies that are already well-defined. Hence, problem-solving becomes the priority rather than catching up with generic processes like reviewing, auditing, or record-keeping.
Much in agreement, Raghav Chandra, Co-Founder UrbanClap says, “When Hackathons are conducted internally within a company, some of the best projects are the ones that are sales/marketing, finance or customer experience driven. On the other hand, most of the hackathon projects which are exclusively product driven, might not deliver results, because anything that goes into creating a product needs to be polished. And since hackathon projects are normally squeezed into a few days, the refinement is difficult to achieve. As opposed to that, any internal tools created for number-driven fields do not need to be super polished, but can be really impactful in increasing the efficiency of the teams.”
Much like hackathons in IT, looking for creative solutions to specific challenges, with a set end-goal in mind, is likely to reap greater benefits. Furthermore, number or project-driven professions, like sales, or marketing, where one needs innovative and creative solutions and tools to achieve the results, hackathons could be a helpful exercise. Dinesh Goel, Co-Founder and CEO, Aasaan Jobs, says, "We all are used to traditional ways of tackling challenges in sales or marketing. The undivided focus on targets does not leave room for innovation. A day can be taken off to form teams and specific tasks of selling or marketing a product can be given to them. They might just end up preparing a sales pitch, or think of a very innovate marketing channel which couldn't be explored in the normal course of the work routine. The overall idea is to challenge your brain and push it to the limit of achieving something more than the regular; which can be achieved in a hackathon."
However, one also needs to be cautious and careful while organising hackathons, internal or external. A poorly executed hackathon might be a drainer of resources and time, with no tangible results. Alternatively, if the end-goal isn’t crystal clear, or the immediate challenge isn’t understood by the participants thoroughly, it might pose a problem. Abhinav Choudhary, says, “While formulating long-term and wide-scale strategies related to sales and marketing, you often need to reassess your ideas after putting them to test on small scale. Furthermore, marketing and sales strategies are region specific and need to be modified frequently based on a number of factors, as opposed to solutions in IT. And assuming that the pressure of time will definitely get the creative juices flowing for everyone is incorrect. A time restriction might stand in the way of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, because for several people the general thumb-rule of creativity begins with procrastination.”
Thus, hackathons undoubtedly provide a conducive opportunity to solve problems, innovate and grow, and also gives employees an opportunity to break away from the regular and accomplish greater things. However, a lot depends on how and why the hackathon is conceptualised to begin with. The next key step is, of course, how efficiently it is executed. Asking the right questions, from the right people, at the right time might give you solutions to your biggest challenges as an organisation – and that is where hackathons bring together people who know your organisation better than others. Although the concept of hackathons is only being sparsely explored in areas outside of IT, the writer believes there is room, opportunity and scope for such exercises to be replicated in other professions to extract the best solutions. The trick essentially lies in doing the hackathon right.
Have you ever participated in a Hackathon? How was your experience? Let us know!