Development hackathon

How to launch a technical hackathon: example of YouScan – SaaS company

YouScan is a social media intelligence tool powered by image recognition. We help companies and brands analyze what their customers say on social media to understand them better. 

As a product company, we are interested in the ongoing learning process to build an innovative product and keep us forward to the competitors. That is the reason why our teammates participate in hackathons or even launch them directly in our office. 

What is a hackathon

Initially, the word “hackathon” originates from “hacking” but in a good way and a “marathon.” In a nutshell, there is a task or a problem, and people trying to overcome it most efficiently during a set period. Though coders first started to conduct such events, nowadays, non-tech specialists joined this practice, so if you see a design hackathon’s announcement, for example, don’t be surprised. 

So, what do you need to run a hackathon? 

  1. A problem. 
  2. The group of people eager to solve this problem creatively (that doesn’t always require coding).
  3. A time frame or deadline (usually 24-48 hours).
  4. The jury to evaluate results. 
  5. A reward (material or non-material, for example, a job offer). 

Why initiate a hackathon, and how to choose the type?

Nevertheless, the mentioned above components are not obligatory and might vary depending on the type and purpose of a hackathon. Depending on various criteria, hackathons can be classified as:

Competitive vs strengthening the community. 

As a rule, competitive hackathons look like a marathon or, better say, sprint, requiring the result within a set period of time. It might be a competition between individuals or teams, but there is always a winner. The reward can be both material (such as money or some valuable objects) as well as a prestigious title, internship, or job offer. Such events are usually sponsored by companies or organizations, whether to promote their brands, hire the best talents or stake out the solution. 

However, participants can also gather for the common purpose on a volunteering basis. Such events aim to strengthen the community, overcome the challenge, get new knowledge and experience, or contribute to society. 

In-house vs public. 

These types differ only by accessibility, as you might guess. Traditionally, in-house hackathons incorporate only your company team members and give them the possibility to improve some internal aspects, test hypotheses, or stimulate them to invent something new. 

On the other hand, if the organization is searching for talented minds or plans to expand the team with interns, a public hackathon is an excellent opportunity to cover these tasks. 

Hackathon guide: how we did it at YouScan 

Our team is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so participating in tech hackathons is habitual for most of our product developers. So we decided to go further and launch an in-house hackathon to come up with new features to add to our social monitoring tool and test some implementations that we used to skip before. 

Even though the hackathon was tech-oriented, everyone in the company could participate, so we changed the regular rules. We decided to accept both MVPs and well-formed ideas that did not require coding, including Automation, Hacking/Learning, Toolset, Prod Infrastructure, Open Source, and even Design Documents (well-formed ideas).

Our CTO, CEO, and Solution Architect formed the jury and could not participate in any projects. Of course, they couldn’t resist joining several teams, but in the end, we didn’t include them in the competition. 

Hackathon scoring system 

Here is a formula that helped us to evaluate the result:

Score = Impact + Readiness + Innovation + Teamwork

Below are the explanations of each element:

Readiness: [0, 4]

– Design Doc: 1

– Proof of Concept: 2

– Prod-ready: 4

Innovation: [0, 4]

– Something we discussed and tried: 1

– Something we discussed but never tried: 2

– Something we never discussed: 4

Impact: [0, 4], measured by jury

– Fix tech debt

– Improving developer productivity

– Business impact

– New knowledge

Teamwork: [0, 4], measured by jury

– Working with other people

– Working with new people

Hackathon process in YouScan

  1. We started by voting for the best ideas. Participants had to pitch ideas properly to interest the teammates. Surprisingly we managed to hold the pitching and selection rather quickly even though almost all the process was remote. 
  2. The hackathon itself lasted for 72 hours so that teams had enough time not only for MVP but also to implement some features.
  3. We planned to evaluate the code quality, but unfortunately, we run out of time, so we had to pass this stage. 
  4. During the evaluation process, the tension got higher as nobody knew exactly who will form the leaderboard. 

Wrapping up 

Hackathon is a great way to strengthen your team and keep your expertise up to date. Don’t limit yourself to only tech requirements; instead, try to unite the whole team and share their experience between different departments. In our case, building a successful product requires a broad understanding of multiple processes, so we encourage erasing any boundaries within YouScan.

Written by
Elena Teselko

Content marketing manager at YouScan, AI-powered social media listening tool.

View all articles

Tell us about your plans on a brief intro call and we’ll start the matching process.

Hire developers