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HACKATHON : IS IT A MAGIC WAND?


We are busy, sometimes way too busy! It can be either tons of work piled up at our office desk or some family commitments waiting for us as soon as we enter “Home Sweet Home.” What everyone wants and which is impossible to attain is – More hours in a day!


What does it take to become more efficient? How do we manage to get some spare time for doing something that is professionally more productive? In short, when do we get to do what we truly adore? When do we play with the tools and technology at hand and get a valuable, creative increment without having the fear of failing? One answer to our problems is A Hackathon!


What is a Hackathon?

It is a fun, timeboxed event, an innovation vehicle where people with common interests collaborate for bringing high quality ideas to life. Hackathons not only bring out the inner best in “You” but also encourage communication, increase the team spirit, and bring together like minded enthusiastic people to achieve a common goal. It provides with an access to pioneers in the tech industry, encourages creative thinking in a stress-free environment and helps communicating a vision, in turn making one feel inspired about doing something meaningful.


Why organize a Hackathon…????

Who would want to organize a hackathon when one can use our inventive minds to build something innovative? Having participated in hackathons previously, I always wanted to explore the grass on the other side. The entire process of ideating, organizing, marketing the idea, and driving the registrations for a hackathon did sound very promising to me.


Along with a team of co-organizers, I organized my first hackathon, engaging internal stakeholders at my present company. The aim was not only to scratch our goldmines and come up with a rapid prototype, but also to create a culture of innovation and promote collaboration.


The Organizing Efforts…!


Whom to cater to?

For benefitting the maximum number of internal stakeholders and encouraging participation, we decided to cater to various cross functional teams. Software Developers, Quality Assurance Engineer/Testers, Data Analytics as well as Scrum Product Owners, we wanted to have everyone covered!


Where to organize?

In today’s world, Post Covid, where work from home is the new normal, we wanted everyone to scratch their heads right in their own comfort zone. What better way than to have an Online Hackathon!


How long should the duration be?

Everyone at our work was pre-occupied with something or the other. On one hand we did not want to shut down our operations and projects completely, and on the other we did want everyone to get involved in creating a minimal viable project, hence we chose a weeklong sprint for the duration for the hackathon.


What to work on?

Had tons of options to work with, but together we concluded that the programming language used to request information from a database, or the “meat and potatoes” of data analysis, Structured Query Language or SQL, was something that would appeal and be beneficial for participants from all our cross-functional teams.


The Kick-Off!

Now that we knew whom we were catering to, it was time to announce the upcoming hackathon. We used our internal slack channel for opening the registrations and invited entries for the same. Keeping it fair, we ensured none of the participants formed their own teams. Communication about shuffling of participants based on experience and expertise was made well in advance.


The Teams

165 participants from different tracks were an impressive number to start with! Questions kept pouring in…. Some regarding the “content” and some the “context.” Ensuring no questions remain unanswered, we as a team did end up encouraging a lot more people to join in! Finally, 183 participants, split across 30 teams was a vast number to work with!


How to plan guidelines for the Sprint?

Collaborating, prioritizing, and dividing the tasks among ourselves was the key to organizing a successful compressed sprint. We decided to work on the following aspects while planning:


· Keeping our focus on “WE” rather than “ME,” we encouraged Agile principles and values should be followed.


The Agile Methodology


· My co-organizers from DA and SDET track created 100 set of questions, for the participants to write queries using PostgreSQL using Hospital DB.


· Making it challenging for the Scrum Masters/Product Owners, we ensured each SM/PO manages more than one Scrum team at the same time.

· Trello was being widely used for project management and tracking progress, asking the teams to track progress using Jira by Atlassian simultaneously with Trello worked as an added challenge as well as learning.


The Progress Tracking

· Not with the aim to micromanage, but to ensure scrum ceremonies take place, we requested the project tracking tools be shared with us from Day1 of the sprint.

· Providing a deadline for submission was necessary for the timeboxed sprint


Guidelines for the Hackathon


Finally, The D-Day – Launching and Execution of the SPRINT – “The Hack Day”!

Launch presentation followed by lots and lots of questions, clearly showed the excitement of the participants. They kept us – “The Organizers” on our toes! One peak at our official mode of communication – “Slack,” and we were looking at tons and tons of questions to be answered!


We not only motivated the participants, helped the scrum masters remove impediments but also supported the teams in the best feasible way. A lot of hackathons have been held earlier, but this opened a new path, especially for all the product owners/scrum masters of all the teams. We encouraged them to not only compete but also collaborate to move forward as a team, enriching the work experience overall.


Submissions

The most awaited time was here! An eye opener for a lot of us was when teams presented their own solutions or explained about the new functionality they had used. Though there was a sense of competition, but it was also with an open mindset to learn.


Evaluations

Keeping in mind the efforts and work that the participants had put in, we could easily see long hours and sleepless nights coming. It did take a lot of patience as well as efforts to evaluate hundreds of questions and queries.

The Evaluation Criteria


Keeping track, if Agile Methodology was used for successful execution of the sprint, to analyzing the questions, extra queries and new functions used required putting in a tremendous effort. Evaluating the teams based on presentation and documentation was no doubt a tedious task which led to fruitful results.


Bottlenecks

I will not be exaggerating when I say, we did see gritted teeth and some not so happy faces while organizing the hackathon. We get it! Trust me! We have been in the shoes of the participants, and we know how and what they think, feel, and expect from the organizers. It was easy to answer most of the questions, the tough job was to keep mum, thinking twice before deciding what should not be answered! All we did not want to do is, give out hints that would make finding the solutions easier for the participants. Did we see some rolling eyes? Oh Man…. We did!


But then, it was all worth it in the end. Was there a learning involved for us? Of-course!


Retrospective and Learnings

To be humbler, to be patient and to be able to convey our thoughts in a more positive manner is what came out of our retrospective. The challenges led to breakthroughs, diversification worked in favor of a healthy collaborative approach, and the results definitely were fun and fulfilling for everyone.


When I say everyone, I mean it!


Conclusion

We planned the hackathon with a lot of courage and pride, we tried to keep an open mindset and thought realistically, and we finally achieved what he had dreamt of!

Organizers or Participants: Everyone gained something from this one week of “packed awesomeness”! It generated ideas, drove innovation and of course brought out new talents, “within us”! We all made new friends for life, built self-confidence, and most importantly got inspired.


Hackathons truly are “Magic Wands,” which come with a lot of benefits for all the parties involved. If you want to improve communication, collaboration, innovation, creativeness within your team – I believe, Hackathon is your one stop answer!

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