The case for company-wide hackathons
My former company, Kahoot!, is no stranger to internal hackathons — we conducted our first several years ago. A yearly initiative, our latest hackathon took place just before the holiday period of 2019, as an opportunity to wind-down after a year of hard work.
The goal was simple — get creative and work on building a new game format! We would spend a day devising a concept and creating a working prototype which could be demoed back to the company. A team could have up to five individuals, with ten total teams participating: the competition element to a hackathon can be vital to incite innovation and creativity.My team decided to work on a brand new, in-browser game, with the goal to teach typing and spelling skills to US 4th grade kids. Here’s what we learnt after twelve intense hours of teamwork!
One of the fundamental parts of a hackathon is working in cross-functional teams, often with colleagues you never work with on a normal day. In our team, we had members from Infrastructure, Marketing, Support and Design. With this mix, everyone had their own ideas, skills and experience to bring to the table. This also gave us a chance to build a strong bond, as we were all working towards the same goal.
As a non-technical person working in technology, coding can often seem abstract. Actually seeing how my “pseudo code” was taken, written and implemented, helped give me great empathy for engineers. Conversely, the technical people I worked with could see the value I brought by providing the content, and structure of the game, as well as its proposed market and value proposition. With a hackathon, everyone is valued, and teams can learn from each other’s strengths.
Despite our different roles and skill-sets, everyone on our team enjoyed gaming, and fully embodied one of Kahoot!’s values, curiosity. Hence, we couldn’t resist throwing ourselves into developing a rich lore and narrative behind the game. Not only did we want to develop a typing game, we also wanted to build an RPG that would keep our market audience entertained and engaged. This interest and curiosity helped fuel specific character roles, storyline branches, and essentially build a more profound experience.
Another crucial part of a hackathon is pushing yourself to be challenged, and getting out of your comfort zone — something I am a strong advocate for! With such limited time, everyone on the team had to get their hands dirty, and execute however they could. Our boundaries were pushed and we were constantly problem-solving.
At some point in the day, I found…
- myself searching for textures to give character to game backgrounds, whilst also devising commands to build a point assignment system.
- my other colleague in Marketing designing dungeon backgrounds in Photoshop and creating an entire storyboard from scratch.
- our Graphic Designer illustrating fun villain characters to appeal to children. All of these were tasks we never did in our regular roles.
If not eye-opening, this element was enormously fun and engaging!
To be laser-focused for one day working towards one clear goal can bring new experiences, develop problem-solving and communication skills, as well as drive innovation in your company. Therefore, I only have one question: when is your next company hackathon?