Why your company should do an internal hackathon

Originally posted at blog.mumm.me

Hackathons are awesome.

At TokBox we put our normal schedule aside for a couple days to run our first internal hackathon. The rules were simple: pitch an idea, form teams, build something, then demo it 30 hours later. The winning team would get a prize.

My team didn’t win (though we were proudly among the first losers), but it was a really positive experience. Here’s why I think every company should try doing an internal hackathon:

  • Give employees a chance to explore different technologies
    It’s easy to become attached to the technology stack you work with everyday and get trapped in the comfortable bubble of what you already know. Hackathon projects gives you the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and explore different technologies, ultimately helping you learn new perspectives and different approaches for solving a problem.
  • Build synergy across different teams
    Similarly, hackathons gives you the opportunity to work with people outside of your normal team. Maniacally cranking out code to hack together the final pieces an hour before demos start is a true chemistry building process.
  • Spark renewed energy
    Competition is a powerful motivator. Even though our team is in no way yearning for motivation, the hackathon brought with it a refreshing collective energy and “who cares, just build it” spirit that I haven’t felt before. Building a new product, especially when jammed in to a high energy 30 hour period, is an intense, addictive, flow-like experience.
  • No expectations fosters innovations
    In daily work there is pressure and consequences associated with all your decisions, so on some level of consciousnesses you are limited to a sane set of safe ideas. In a hackathon, it doesn’t matter if the thing you make turns out to be a huge piece of crap. The fact that there are no expectations frees you from creative burdens — you can be as wacky or crazy as you want to be. Doesn’t that seem like a smarter way to innovate?

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