How to Run a Successful Hackathon if You’re a Tech Company
Our recent hackathon proved more meaningful than a 24-hour coding event. Discover how we motivated participants from around the globe to explore the unexplored.
A few weeks ago, Dynamic Yield hosted its first ever hackathon. If you aren’t familiar with the term, a hackathon is a 24-hour event where individuals from an organization come together, often in small teams, to bring a new idea or product to fruition in a short period of time. Determined by a panel of judges, participants not only enter for a chance to win grand prizes but for the opportunity to innovate, bringing fresh, potentially gainful business applications that might otherwise not have been considered.
A long-standing tradition in many tech companies, typically, hackathons center around development and engineering, bringing out the best programmers for the creation of usable software. At Dynamic Yield, while we pride ourselves on building path-breaking products, we wanted to organize an all-inclusive hackathon, encouraging every team member, regardless of role, skillset, or department to get involved and create.
From New York City to Berlin, Tel-Aviv, and all the way to Singapore, find out how the Dynamic Yield Hackathon became more than just a one-day event, inspiring a culture of collaboration that will leave lasting ripples across the organization.
The Making of a Hackathon
Not just a human resources initiative, Dynamic Yield dedicated ten employees to help build out our hackathon program and run logistics. With a little over a month from our initial decision to host the competition, there was a lot that needed to come together in order to pull a worldwide event like this off successfully.
First and foremost, the theme.
Though, thankfully, it was pretty glaring…
Dynamic Yield was founded on data, our product relies on it, and our marketing and customer stories revolve around it — so, naturally, it made sense. Our VP of Research & Development, Elad Rosenheim, even shed some inspiration on the subject:
“The hackathon is a great opportunity to start re-discovering the data we have and put it to work in interesting ways. As we move to become a more API-oriented company, breaking down barriers and ensuring easy, standard access to data is crucial. I look to the hackathon as one of our first steps down that road.”
To integrate as many new features and ideas into the Dynamic Yield product, services, and processes in order to increase customer satisfaction through data transparency.
Broken down into two distinct tracks, participants could join forces and register for an idea on either a business team or tech team of 3-6 people. For those who didn’t know how to write code, the business track was the perfect fit for those who wanted to explore an initiative they’ve always dreamed of. And for those who did, the tech track was a natural fit. All about cutting-edge technologies, ninja programmers could get excited at the chance to discover new frameworks, and bring hardcore innovation to the product.
Anyone unsure of how to contribute had direct access to info sessions, and hackathon forums set up for idea generation, tips on finding a team, how to prepare, and any questions that needed answering.
Once registration closed, it was time for glory.
But not without judging criteria and guidelines:
- How innovative is your idea, technology-wise?
- How much is the project-oriented for customers?
- What is the level of readiness of the project at the end of the hackathon?
- Is your product designed for scale?
- What is a new thing that your team learned to achieve the implementation of your idea?
- How creative was the solution?
- How unique was the idea?
- How practical or useful was the idea?
- What is the business potential of the idea?
Ready, Set, Hack
With all the makings of a great hackathon in place, including catered brunch, dinner, happy hour and stations for rest, fun, and ideation, CEO of Dynamic Yield, Liad Agmon addressed our readied participants before starting the clock:
And then, the countdown began. Motivated to shine a brighter light on the data we work with on a daily basis, our hackers got to hacking.
After 24 hours of brainstorming, creating, whiteboarding, coding, eating, minimal sleeping, Jenga, foosball, and numerous shots of Jack Daniels, nine tech teams, and three business teams endured.
A few fun facts:
- Alumni’s of Dynamic Yield came to participate in the day’s activities, coding just for fun
- A trainer was invited for stretches early morning in Israel but was called off because teams were coding through the night and into closing ceremony
- A few teams took online courses outside of their realm to take on new skills required for completing their projects
- Due to an impending storm, the US team had to present their idea first during demos, joining by phone for the remaining presentations en route home
Our judges, who included members of our Board of Directors, were then tasked with the difficult decision of voting on one business team and one tech team winner. The reward? $500 in USD, per person. In addition, a “People’s Choice” award would grant projects deemed most popular among the organization in each track a chance at success. The stakes were high, and with so many outstanding idea, prizes ended up having to be updated and divvied out to additional teams due to the difficulty selecting winners!
On the business side, themes like goodwill, collaboration, and talent rooted in projects that would enable employees more easily participate in charitable activities, allow a free flow of customer-generated ideas, and hack outdated systems of recruiting.
One project, in particular, titled DY Impact, which won the title of “People’s Choice,” granted employees a gateway for finding causes near and dear to their heart for volunteer opportunities as well as the ability to donate a work day’s earnings.
That’s pretty special.
As for the techies, machine learning algorithms were in full force, while new dashboards were being born to enable access to data not previously visualized before. A deep learning neural network was created for a new recommendation strategy, and an app with artificial intelligence controlled by voice recognition was built to provide insights about data in natural language.
By the end of the event, the talent and human capital shown has left participants hungry for more. So much so, we’ve decided to plan a second hackathon later this year — all great minds welcome.
Until then, we’ll be busy rolling out a few of the amazing innovations that exceeded our expectations, influencing our roadmap and improving how we serve our customers in ways we couldn’t have even imagined possible.
A big thank you to all who attended.
And if you’re interested in running your own hackathon, I hope some of what I’ve shared about our experience will help inspire you. The foundation of any successful hackathon is 1) to give employees relief from their daily work 2) ensure enough people can support your mission 3) plan ahead and 4) promote the benefits internally to get people excited.