In December 2018 I had a 2-day hackathon which was organized by my company. On a yearly basis we have such hackathons, so also this year was no exception. However, for me there was a huge difference between these hackathons. And I’m going to tell you why this one crushed the other one.
The first blow is half the battle. Since we decided in September 2018 that our hackathon would take place in December of that year, we had plenty of time to prepare. The first questions that pop into your mind are: “What are interesting topics?” or “How can we be as innovative as possible?”. Those questions are not wrong, even better; they are very important for a good hackathon. But for me the main question was: “How can we be as productive as possible?” and “How can we improve in comparison to last year’s hackathon?”. Looking back to last year’s hackathon what where the main impediments that lead to a not so productive hackathon.
Productivity impediments last year:
- Bad internet connection.
- No clear separation between fun and work (working and living in one area).
- Not being in the right team, which leads to no productivity.
Last year was fun and we learned a lot but considering the impediments it still needed improvement. So, I made it my task to make this hackathon the best one yet!
The search started for an accommodation for roughly 20 people. I’ve contacted several hosts on Airbnb to ask about some details. The main question I asked was: How good is your internet connection and is it possible to handle the load of approximately 20 tech-savvy’s? Every answer I got was: “I never had any complaints about the internet”. They were actually not aware of the quality and stability of the internet they provided. So, I concluded that a proper internet connection was still not certain. We ended up picking an accommodation which was built in 2018, a 2-story building, where you could live and sleep downstairs and work upstairs. They also claimed to have the best internet package possible.
I thought: “What is a fun distraction when you are doing a hackathon?” We at codecentric love to play table tennis, so we were very fortunate when we found a table tennis table at our accommodation. But that was not enough. Robbert, our boss, came up with the idea to include another fun but competitive element. So, what’s better than having a moving race simulator? One phone call and ten minutes later it was settled. We found a company that could deliver such a simulator onsite.
As I mentioned before, most people would think of topics to cover and how to be innovative. And that, of course, was also the main goal of the hackathon. Learn new things and have fun while doing it. But that also needs preparation. A main and common goal for everyone to achieve. The goal for our hackathon was: “Exposure for codecentric”. How can we put codecentric on the radar in a fun and unique way.
A few weeks before the hackathon we did some brainstorming sessions and came up with several ideas. Everyone could put his name behind the idea he liked most and was going to work on. We decided that we would start the hackathon with a few pitches, so everyone had a clear view of what we were doing.
Our stay at the accommodation
The day everyone arrived, we had a brief introduction about all the facilities. We had the luxury that almost everyone had his own bedroom with a private bathroom.
We decided that we would pitch our ideas later that evening, so everyone could start fresh in the morning, without any interruptions. During these pitches everyone presented their ideas and came with a plan what they were going to deliver at the end of the hackathon and what the follow-up steps are for the future.
The first day began as we agreed upon at around 08.00 AM, we discussed several things regarding the project at breakfast, and we started coding. The beautiful thing about our free-format hackathons is that it’s up to yourself and your team when you take a break and when you decide to work on the projects. All that’s taken care of is the food and drinks in the accommodation. You decide with your team what you have for dinner and perhaps there are other teams that would like to eat the same. After the first day of coding we played some games and had some drinks, even some were burning the midnight oil!
The next day. A new day with new thoughts and a big surprise for all the colleagues. At around 11.00 AM the truck arrived. After a two-hour set-up, we had our official “fun” part of the hackathon. This beast had three 55” curved monitors with an immersive racing seat. Even though the temptation was big, we also needed to focus on the hackathon. Since we had the simulator for 9 whole hours, we had plenty of time to balance work with racing. But still with a right balance; let’s say I can dream the track of Spa Francorchamps. In the evening we scheduled some presentations about what we achieved during the hackathon and if there were any alterations on the follow-up steps.
The next morning, we collaboratively cleaned the accommodation and said goodbye to each other. It was time for a well-earned weekend.
If you would like to know more about the projects that we created during this hackathon I would really suggest keeping an eye out for our blogs. In the near future we will update our blog and tell you in detail what we did and how.
Will we do it the same next year?
If we look at our hackathon from 2017, the impediments were a bad internet connection, no clear separation between work and fun and not being in the right team. If we look at our last hackathon, we conquered these impediments by finding a suitable accommodation, which has a clear work / living separation. This was also our first free-format hackathon, which turned out to be a great success!
So, if it’s up to me, yes, we will do it the same. Although a hackathon wouldn’t be a good hackathon if we didn’t learn from it. So next year I would like to focus on our closing presentation, so everybody can share their knowledge and findings.
With some big improvements this hackathon has beaten last year’s hackathon which fits right into our philosophy of continuous improvement. Do you enjoy hackathons and working on innovative projects, consider codecentric and join us next time!