Technologists – at least most of the truly talented ones – love to be challenged. Your best people will know very well the differences between a full scale commercial technology development life cycle and a quick fire competitive race towards a specific goal of creativity and innovation. While the former offers a blanket of utmost discipline, multiple forms of security and ample resources, the latter involves plunging into the action and getting hands dirty.
Technology companies are seeking unprecedented levels of proactivity in their engagement with customers. Hackathons serve a dual purpose in this regard. One, obviously, is that the high energy environment is a breeding ground for ideas that could change the industry. Two, it is a platform for the people behind the idea to showcase their talent. Make no mistake, the thinker is usually more valuable to a company than one thought. So here are four points to consider before you take that route:
1. Clarify your objective and focus on it
Why do you need to organize a hackathon? Are you trying to solve a nagging business problem by getting a fresh set of eyes in? Do you need to scout for new talent for enhancing your business? Do you want to showcase your technology capabilities to a specific audience and grab some attention? Look around you (assuming you are in a city with some techie population) and you will see scores of such events are taking place – by companies, by industry bodies and even by educational institutions. Hackathons can be extremely useful in all these respects, but you need utmost clarity on what you seek to gain from it. Everything from the participation pool to the venue to the event management depends on it.
2. Set reasonable expectations about your ROI
A hackathon which is advertised as 48 continuous hours of coding is not merely a two day effort; it involves a significant investment of money, time and effort and comes with a risk that the result of the hackathon is far from what you were hoping for. It is important to understand the participants in your hackathon and what you expect from them.
Are they seasoned industry professionals who are seeking to solve a familiar problem, or are they students who are completely new to the industry? The outputs – which will be your Return on Investment - will be very different in each case, although ideally they would both provide value in their own ways.
3. Don't insist on perfection; salvage usable ideas
Technologists love hackathons because of the freedom they get. Unlike development of a marketable technology product, a hackathon only demands a working prototype at the most. Despite the fact that teams come to the event with some planning done beforehand, some submissions are very much likely to be limited in scope and leaving the bulk of it for the "to do" and wishlists. But if some usable ideas and innovative thoughts lie at its core then it would make sense to pick them up, polish them and evaluate them for commercial application. Don't expect ready to sell products, but you may well find scope for many popular features to your existing product lines in that stack of prototypes.
4. Expect change, prepare to embrace it
We are face to face with and building a new generation of technology, which is different from what has been the norm so far. But many tech providers who lecture their customers to let go of legacy systems are holding on to a legacy culture at the hearts of their own companies. Such companies may have trouble adjusting to the fresh crop of innovative technologists and their thought processes. Look deep into your own organizational DNA and see how receptive you can be to challenges against the status quo. Else you may get stuck with immense potential which you cannot use.
A hackathon isn't a one stop solution to the problem tech companies face today. Rather, it is a critical part of the new age recruitment strategy. Setting up the right kind of staffing framework and inducting the right manpower are key to making the best use of it.
Did you know: The IATA NDC Hackathon 2018 is all set for kick off at the offices of IBS Software at Smart City, Kochi, India. The world's leading technologists and entrepreneurs from the travel sector, as well as student engineers who qualified for the event through the recently concluded IBS Travel Hackathon 2018 - Student Edition, will compete.