When I joined DigitalOcean in October 2016 as Chief of Staff to our CTO, one of my first tasks was to organize a company-wide Hackathon. I was intrigued as to why our leadership was so excited about a Hackathon; in my mind, it was an event for employees to work together and collaborate similar to a DO basketball game or dinner outing. Why were they so interested in the company-wide participation?
I did not get my answer until after the Hackathon. I realized not only were there positive outcomes around collaboration and team-building, but the actual outputs were extremely innovative, intelligent, and productive. As our VP of Engineering Greg Warden put it, “I love seeing the passion and ideas from people I don’t always interact with. The best ideas come from the most curious of places.” Enough said!
Over the past year, we’ve successfully hosted three Hackathons. From our initial Hackathon of 120 participants, we’ve successfully increased our participation to over 40% of our 380+ employee company. In order to achieve this growth, we constantly iterated each event. We’ve added guest technical judges to help evaluate the more complicated projects, extended the pitching time from 120 seconds to 5 minutes, and brought in fun extras like a barista, late night pizza, and happy hour. To foster a healthy sense of friendly competition, we give awards in categories like “Best Business Solution”, “Best Technology”, “Most Cross-functional Team”, and “People’s Choice”. All of our Hackathon participants get fun swag, too!
One of the best parts of the Hackathon is seeing projects that end up becoming a part of our internal toolset. Some notable past winners include:
Many projects, including those mentioned above, focus not only on customer-facing tools, but they also optimize the employee experience. It was a unique balance, whereas some people focused on how they could improve their everyday life, while others looked to cloud computing.
Here are five tips to consider for hosting a successful Hackathon.
Company-wide Hackathons are a great way to promote company cohesion in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. They give people room to be creative and to work with people across teams that they would normally not interface with in their day-to-day life. By giving people the space to experiment, tinker, and get to know each other, you give them permission to create something of value to themselves and even the company at large.
A scene from our most recent Hackathon this past October.
Jackie De La Rosa is a Senior Program Manager at DigitalOcean and focuses on overall strategy, business operations and executive initiatives. She was one of the first employees at DigitalOcean’s second office in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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