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How and why we do hackathons at Airtame

EngineeringTech
5 min read
How and why we do hackathons at Airtame
Simone Hjorth
May 19th, 2018

Fuelled by pizza and energy drinks, hackathons provide the creative boost every company needs to re-establish common goals

It’s an integral part of every technical startup to host hackathons, and tech companies all over the world host and participate in them. But what are they and how do they benefit the company and culture?

What is a hackathon anyway?

A hackathon is a time-limited event where the engineering department, UX and design – even marketing and sales – come together to collaborate on a project with a particular focus. The time limit forces participants to boil down visionary concepts to concrete, applicable solutions.

While hardware and software teams often work alongside, hackathons give them the place to collaborate on creating something new, or solving a specific issue. Besides finding an answer to internal workflow problems, hackathons could help the business innovate new ideas.

At hackathons, participants shuffle teams around and work with no restrictions to the project, which unleashes people’s creative energy even more than in day-to-day operations.

The sky’s the limit at any hackathon because of the casual, creative environment. In our experience, they can invigorate the entire team by boosting these four essential areas:

  • Teambuilding

    Just as it is great for problem-solving, hackathons work as a bonding exercise too. We have people from many different backgrounds and nationalities working together, and hackathon events push all members to unite and brainstorm. Bringing together the entire team is a great opportunity to share insights and knowledge while also learning from each other.

  • Innovation

    We can’t afford to stop focusing on product development, no matter how well our growth efforts are coming along. We want to do better, and we can’t do that without giving center stage to the engineering team on a continuous level. Just as customer needs change, so should our product. Hackathons help predict and improve that development.

    Even though we’d like it to be, problem-solving is rarely a linear process. The creative environment of hackathons allow new ideas to flourish in a vigorous way, creating a ripple effect throughout the entire company. Suddenly, people not within the engineering team start to realize the endless amount of technical possibilities that can be achieved when the team works together.

  • Company culture

    Hackathons give everyone an opportunity to try another, unconventional role and discover other challenges and ways of thinking than usually.

    The time spent understanding other areas of expertise, their particular technicalities, abilities and challenges, gives a more detailed level of insight that can be applied afterwards. Besides working together in less typical groups, it helps the team see the company as a cohesive unit.

  • Recruitment & branding

    Every tech company and startup want to be perceived as “hacker-friendly”. Certainly because we believe it to be true and something our whole business is founded on, but also because we gain awareness, even if the hackathon is only internal. This helps attract top talent and continue to push already onboarded talent to bigger, better things.

How we do hackathons at Airtame

Airtame builds hardware, firmware and software, all platform-agnostic, which means there are numerous opportunities for exciting projects and creative freedom.

We do not have strongly divided departments at Airtame, and we work together towards a common goal on a daily basis. However, hackathons still provide us with the chance to tie together different perspectives and touchpoints in a risk-free environment, and that is both refreshing and exciting.

We host 3-4 hackathons each year at Airtame, and they are usually restricted to a 48-hour period. As you can imagine, those two working days are buzzing with bright ideas and imagination. The whole office is lit with a vibrant energy that feeds through all departments.

The hackathons we host differ each time. Sometimes they are company-wide, other times confined to one department that dedicates it to a specific consumer-related pain-point. We often have a theme for the hackathon that participants must gravitate towards. At our last hackathon, the theme was “space” – not for any particular reason other than we’re a bit occupied with our office space at the moment because we’ll soon be moving to a new HQ. Hence, space is on everyone’s mind!

There are pros and cons to both setups. It’s not easy to manage an all-team workshop for several reasons, one being that it takes focus away from directly revenue-tied tasks, and second because the coordination is a pain. On the other hand, hackathons build a bridge to the world of developers. They offer a different perspective the engineering team couldn’t think of besides supplying the technical swag other departments lack.

Organized chaos = lots of fun

Yes – fun! It’s something we prioritize, and we’ve taken it to the next level for all employees several times, most recently for a Workathon in Greece! Our workathons give us the chance to work cross-team in a different environment, and they function both as a team bonding exercise and a work sprint.

While hackathons are not mandatory, it’s an essential part of our company culture, which is why we strongly encourage everyone to participate – unless they have a pressing issue. We also encourage working in teams, but working allow is allowed too.

The pursuit for “the perfect hackathon” …

Hackathons give the freedom to work on something completely different and come together in a stimulating environment. At hackathons, we can all learn from each other and gain inspiration from other areas of expertise.

Whether it’s a technical workflow issue or a new innovation free of restrictions, there should be room for fun while figuring out the best solution.

What does the perfect hackathon look like? It’s hard to say, but we do know it involves lots of pizza!

Have hackathons helped your business? How do you do them? We want to hear all about it!
Simone Hjorth
My job is to put together words in a delightful, entertaining, and sometimes moving way. 1 part techno enthusiast, 2 parts cat lover, 3 parts creative writer. Too many parts?