I was one of three judges last Friday afternoon at the First Annual Automated Insights Hackathon. Thanks to their CEO/founder Robbie Allen for inviting me to participate. I really enjoyed the opportunity.
As background on the format, their Hackathon started last Thursday at 10am and went to 5pm on Friday. They provided dinner on Thursday night and lunch for everyone on Friday.
Everyone in the company HAD to come up with 1-4 ideas and submit them before Thursday at 10am. At 10am on Thursday they wrote down all the ideas on a whiteboard. Each person got 30 seconds to describe their idea. At that point, everyone had to sign up for the idea(s) they wanted to work on. Each team had to have at least one developer and one non developer. No one could sign up for more than three ideas.
The goal is to have a presentation ready for the panel of judges by 3pm on Friday. Live demos were encouraged.
On Friday afternoon our judging panel of three listened to about 12 four-minute pitches and ranked them on their overall idea, revenue potential and synergies with other products at Automated Insights.
I really like the idea of a company like this doing a Hackathon. From what I saw, here were some of the benefits:
1) Fresh ideas bubbled up. It got people out of the daily "grind," got the creative juices flowing and forced everyone to think of new ideas that benefit the company. I think it is a good forum for people that have been "sitting" on an idea for a while but for whatever reason haven't talked about it. It helped those ideas bubble up and showcased them in front of their peers and the management team.
2) Enhanced presentation skills. I think it helps people work on their presentation skills. Presenters had to sell to everyone why their idea made sense - market size, how it impacts users, how it results in revenue, etc. So, not only were the teams presenting a demo, but they presented a real business case.
3) Built teamwork. People interacted on a team with others that they might not normall interact with. I saw people have fun and I think it encouraged teamwork.
I'd be curious to get other's opinions on hosting a hackathon like this. Have you tried it at your company? Has it worked well? What was the outcome?