Building Together: Scalable Hackathon Model

Scalable hackathon model
Hackathons are a critical cornerstone for fostering cross company team interactions, learning and innovation.

One of my old high school friends became a dietitian during college. After she graduated, she joined the military and served many overseas tours. We forget that a vital part of a quick build hospital on the ground includes proper nutrition for our armed forces.

As companies, institutions and governments constantly adapt to the competitive landscape, that means we need to properly feed our teams. We can do this through voluntary participation hackathons and making hackathons a strategic part of growth and innovation strategy. Though software developers and Makers are familiar with hackathons, the best collaboration and silo tearing way to introduce this type of event is to include anyone in the company who has a great idea. Make the intake and structure easy to understand and contribute to.

This article is part of a comprehensive guide for leaders, executive sponsors, and anyone organizing looking for guidance on how hackathons are one of many vehicles for innovation operations and nurturing that spirit in your business and mission. We’ll explore other models in future posts such as engaging customers, partners and especially the business side of hackathons!

foster innovation at a grassroots level with executive support by facilitating a learning environment where trying something helps everyone grow closer and be better.

Make the experts known

Before and during the event, prepare a list of subject matter experts for technologies and products that people will likely use throughout the hackathon.

If the hackathon is an in-person event, you can use placards to indicate that someone has expertise in wireframing, APIs, front end development, product marketing, mobile app development and even cloud or DevOps related knowledge. I credit this idea to the Hack Together I participated in at Texas Christian University which was cohosted by Women Who Code Dallas. During a hackathon, you will likely discover new talents, skills and strengths from employees that you may not have observed or known about in their day to day role. Make sure you celebrate and highlight these contributions as well.

If the hackathon is digital and globally distributed, have each expert tag their expertise short code before their first name such as on their Zoom display name. In the example above, perhaps someone is particularly skilled in application integration or getting two APIs or systems to talk to each other with mapped data. In this case, Elizabeth Haskell, would show “APPINT-Elizabeth Haskell” during any online collaboration. My toastmasters group uses this method with event roles so it is easy to see who is the Ah counter, Timer, Listener, vote counter, speaker, or other role. This method is also effective to identify mentors.

Here are examples of successful globally distributed events that are well-organized where we apply some of the methods above are found:

  1. https://euvsvirus.org/resources/
  2. Major League Hackathon’s Organizer Guide

Comment below the article or post to suggest more.

Mentorship, support and Infrastructure-as-a-Service

Limit or eliminate shadow IT, by listing the resources available for:

  • Collaboration
  • Code repository
  • Sample Data Sets
  • Backend databases
  • Cloud and on premise infrastructure
  • Partitioned resources

If your company owns Salesforce, Marketo, Hubspot, Slack or other tools on an enterprise level, you can make the sandbox or developer resources available to those participating. Otherwise, employees may create temporary trial accounts that they may forget about if they don’t continue their hackathon project after the hackathon.

Often times, employees need dedicated support during the hackathon if you’re consuming your own software, tools and processes. Work with your support leader to understand what this can look like. The more company-wide hackathons you complete, the more data you’ll have to examine patterns and plan ahead for consumption and graceful troubleshooting. The reason why you want to do this is because your business is running as usual and you want to deliver stellar support to your customers, partners and community as a competing concern.

Incubate in the garden

Major League Hacking MLH is focused on students. Students and younger professionals being impressionable with unique experiences will respond well to being invited to a hackathon. However, we know that sometimes in an enterprise environment that may not always be possible. But, we learn from this approach because loyal customers often use the product for a long time before they become customers. Providing the opportunity for the greater community to learn is always a smart investment. The history of MLH is a CEO and co-founder, Mike Swift, who previously founded Hacker League which was acquired by Intel in 2013.

Reaching your customers early is key to enthusiasm and higher motivation important to keeping them engaged when there is any kind of complexity: Think journey to the cloud, container orchestration and microservices.

How Open Do You Want to Be?

The more open you want to be, the more community-led and community-driven you have to be to scale properly. A good experience is thoughtful and sets realistic expectations for all involved from organizers, maintainers, participants and beyond.

Invite to the farm

Plug the finished hackathon idea into your community and ecosystem. The hackathon is just the start. Employees, partners, customers and prospects will be excited because they get to build out new revenue generating features and products that they otherwise can’t get priority for in their product backlog. The ecosystem is just waiting for you to seed it and nurture ideas quickly to supercharge action forward. Speed is key and hackathons facilitate that mission.

Our Axway Griffin Innovation Lab, Evangelism Team and greater Axway Team can host, partner and contribute with you.

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API Strategist - Emmelyn Wang has 20 years of experience working across many industries including eCommerce and global distribution as a software and technology innovation leader with a focus on the role of API products and platform programs. Currently, she serves on Axway’s CTIO team, and is an internationally recognized speaker and thought leader for the business of APIs and the platforms and ecosystems they serve. Emmelyn Wang's background also includes developer community engagement, working on API product teams building APIs for internal and external stakeholders, and supporting partners integrating with APIs. She has also led technical marketing teams creating engineering-focused content to innovate in both software and hardware supporting global companies to break revenue and adoption records. She started her career in Austin, Silicon Hills, where she also contributed to the growth of several startups. Emmelyn serves on the core team of the AsyncAPI specification, sister spec to the OAS spec. She holds a Masters in Technical Communication. She contributes and speaks at GDS Insight, CIO Leadership, API Days, API the Docs, Nordic APIs Annual Summit, Write the Docs, Lavacon, Women Who Code, and other digital business events worldwide. She runs the APIOps Meet up and is based in Dallas, TX.

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