At MindSea, we have a passion for creating things.
It’s been an honour to share this passion with others during our MindSea Hackathons. We always have a strong turnout and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome. People from all levels of expertise participate, including some writing their very first mobile app. At the end of the night six teams present, each having produced something great in the 12 hours available.
Should your company host a hackathon of your own?
Here are the three biggest reasons we’ve found to take on this rewarding challenge:
Find new talent
MindSea is made of people who build things for fun. We’re also constantly looking for new talent. While it’s not the goal of the event, we’d be nuts not to keep hackathon attendees in mind when hiring. Someone who wants to code during their downtime is a kindred spirit! Also, while we’re pretty strict about 40 hour weeks, a hackathon is a great place to see people perform under pressure. It’s not foolproof, but someone’s performance during an event like this can be more telling than an interview.
Give back to the community
The local development community is important to us, and it’s something we want to help nourish. We’re happiest when we see other people doing interesting work around us, and we expect others feel the same. Our hope is that keeping the community vibrant helps our area retain talent. The way we see it, the more events taking place the better! That said, we know putting on events can be time consuming and expensive. That’s why we feel we need to host events as well as attend them.
Get outside the bubble
We all have our social circles, and it’s sometimes hard to find out what’s going on outside of them. Hosting a hackathon is a great way to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t. When attending a hackathon, you’re often too busy making something to mingle. As a host, you have more opportunities to be introduced to new people and ideas. That last part is important: while new business opportunities are always a welcome outcome to networking events, being inspired by someone you’ve just met can be invaluable.
Tips for hosting a hackathon:
We also thought it’d be helpful to share some tips about the event format. These aren’t one-size-fits-all rules, but they do lead to the type of hackathon we most want to participate in.
- 12-hour time limit: Many hackathons take place over a full weekend, often including Friday evening. This makes some sense, as software takes time to build. The problem is that people are busy, and asking a whole weekend of your attendees will limit attendance. We feel one 12-hour day is the right compromise.
- Feed people: To help people produce something in a short time, they shouldn’t need to leave the premises to get food. Sandwiches or pizza make good options for meal times, and we supplied a good mix of healthy snacks and beverages as well. Another note, as we learned this weekend, is that too much food is better than not enough.
- Not a competition: We feel that a hackathon should be a celebration of creativity. Competitions have their place, but they bring issues of fairness and judgement which could unintentionally leave people with a bad impression. We prefer that everyone has a good time and feels rewarded. To help with that, we gave all attendees gift packages just for showing up.
- Come equipped: Spending half a day on setting up tooling can be disheartening. Make sure than attendees know what they need to download and install before they arrive. This applies to experienced developers as much as those just getting their feet wet. If you’re going to be working with Xcode, Android Studio, or some other large IDE, you need to install it before you arrive.
- Get confirmation: Losing time from a weekend can be a large commitment. Some people might want to come, but need to bow out as the event date approaches. To help plan attendance, we reached out to everyone who signed up and asked them to double-confirm. Doing this just a few days ahead of time gave us a better head count estimate, and made planning for seating and food much easier.
We hope these ideas help motivate you to host your own event. While it does require planning and effort, the payoff is well worth it. Finding new talent is one great reason to run a a hackathon, but it can be even more enriching to focus on giving back to the community and being inspired by the people you meet. If you have any questions, or if you’d like to share your hackathon story, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be happy to hear we’ve helped to spread the joy of hackathons!