The “Hackathon” strategy for Innovation!

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One of the most famous and raucous scenes from the movie The Social Network, about the birth and rise of Facebook, is a hackathon, where fueled by youthful exuberance and, other things, a group of hackers compete to develop code for server intrusion… While not typically as wild as that scene, we are all seeing the paradigm shift in the way software gets developed, deployed and used. Shortened cycle times, focus on show and tell, Agile methods, fail fast and learn, take a thread and weave a story… these are just some of the shifts that we see happening. These shifts clearly indicate a very different culture that embraces the way ISV’s, software service providers and enterprises are approaching software development. Interestingly, these shifts are forcing organizations to innovate much more and much faster than they ever have.

There are many ways in which organizations are trying to meet this challenge with one major focus on building a culture that can help the organization to innovate faster. The hackathon is becoming a very popular tool to achieve this goal and at Persistent we’ve benefited from this for years and have woven it into our very DNA through events such as our annual global Semicolons hackathon.

Very simplistically, a hackathon is a platform to get teams together to work on an intense sprint to either solve some complex problems or build some innovative solutions. The two aspects of collaboration and competition are beautifully addressed by this platform.

 Software engineers love a tough challenge. In many cases, however, they tend to be prone to re-inventing the wheel, building everything from scratch, being a lone wolf. Unfortunately, these same traits that would have been seen as a mark of an innovative software engineer are no longer in tune with the kind of culture that innovative organizations need in today’s world. Today, it’s all about co-creation, collaboration and being intensely competitive but as a TEAM. Hackathons are designed to promote these aspects.

 We are increasingly seeing that organizations that embrace hackathons as a strategic tool are better at building a culture of innovation and that software engineers participating in hackathons are able to lead the change better than those who don’t.

Some of the key competencies that individuals participating in hackathons are able to develop and hence stand out from the rest are as follows:-

  •  Team play – These individuals are fantastic team players and hence are very likely to emerge as future leaders.
  • Innovation – These individuals develop a high innovation quotient and are bursting with ideas
  • Risk Taking – These individuals have a bigger appetite for risk and are not afraid to fail fast and learn
  • “Fun”ability – These individuals invariably have the most fun at work, they enjoy everything they do… and to quote Dr. Seuss, “fun is good!”
  • Problem solving – These individuals develop excellent problem solving skills and are able to bring a multi-dimensional approach to solving a complex problem.
  • Humility – These individuals learn to learn from their team mates and hence are more humble, willing to acknowledge their gaps and learn to plug them
  • Agility – These individuals are able to adapt faster to changing situations, take tough deadlines without being fazed and deliver on them
  • Leadership – These individuals emerge as natural leaders over a period of time

 Here at Persistent “hacking” is in our very DNA and it’s resulted not only in some great offerings we now sell to customers, but in bringing a fresh outlook to how we approach problems and opportunities. We’re proud that we’ve been recognized as India’s Coding Powerhouse for two years in a row! In the coming months and year we’ll continue to foster this sense of coding energy both within the company and in education. We believe challenging norms and the spirit of competition and discovery is vital, so organizations and individuals must embrace the Hackathon culture and use it as a potent tool to create innovative leaders and an innovative organization that can delight its customers.

Image Credits: Columbia Pictures

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