back to article Hackathons: Don't try them if you don't like risks

When organisations grind to a halt, weighed down by their own bureaucracy, inertia and politics, they flail about for something to give a short, sharp shock to their vitals. Something to get them moving again. The techniques used to get things humming along again have varied over the years – a rogue’s gallery of specious …

  1. Mark 85

    I guess this is slightly better than having everyone lock arms and sing "Kambaya"? I've been through some of this previous mentioned stuff that was "embraced by the board and senior management". Did it change anything? No. Did anyone really feel it was anything other than a waste of time? No. So how is this "better" or more productive? Especially under the constraints? I see it as a warm, fuzzy type of moment, then back to business as usual.

    Thanks for the heads up on this though. I think when the place I work decides this is the fad of the moment to follow, I'll be out sick that week...<cough><sniffle><barf> with the flu.

  2. a_yank_lurker

    The real problem according to Deming

    Deming observed the real problem in most organizations is the (mis)management team. If the organization is truly serious about fostering change the management team has to foster an environment were new ideas are welcomed and genuinely considered.

  3. Christian Berger

    Hackathons are not here to benefit companies

    A company sponsored hackathon is a perversion of the idea. Hackathons are part of the hacker community to gain and share experience, not a contest to outsource the work nobody can do at your company.

  4. BrendHart

    Having just experienced a Fedex (Hackathon) day I can attest to the fact that companies tend to make most of the mistakes highlighted in the article.

    One thing that everybody seems to miss is that Hackathons are a great gauge for the wet skills and team dynamics of your staff. Removing all corporate structures and leveling the playing field by forcing people to advocate ideas and follow them through is an awesome HR tool. You can see which members have a natural knack for leading a team and commanding respect and which individuals have good chemistry and work well together.

    I'd say there is more value in that than the actual code and ideas (Which normally get ignored by business anyway.)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Better than team building exercises!

    I doubt a couple of days of messing around with glue and scissors is actually going to worry corporates...

  6. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    capture innovative ideas.

    "Suddenly, both big business and big government, in a collective penny-drop moment, have adopted the hackathon methodology to inspire employees and capture innovative ideas."

    I just use a butterfly net

  7. Any mouse Cow turd


    You are Steve Bong and I claim my £5

  8. FozzyBear

    Recently dodged that bullet

    Having been on company "retreats", team building days, sponsored development and character days (Yeah, still have no frigging idea what hell that is).This voice of reason can honestly say they are a


    Want to improve team dynamics. Call down tools at lunch time and throw the card on the bar for the afternoon.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can we go back to roleplaying? Ran a very successful little Cthulhu adventure last weekend.

    I think realising the smallness of mankind and the futility of our struggle against a vast unknowable and uncaring universe would really sort people out.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    I have a suggestion for role playing.

    Let everyone take it in turns to see who can be the biggest ba**ard in the group.

    Handy way to see who is the most psychopathic in the group (and therefor likely to be promoted to your boss).

  11. Borg.King

    Don't wait to have a hackathon

    Don't use them as a way to stimulate somnambulistic employees, use them as a periodic way to break a team away from the pressures of your normal schedule. We try to have a couple of 2 day hackathons during the year.

    Hackathons I organized have been very productive, and everyone understands that you're not going to get a diamond every time. A little light hearted competition is a bonus, it's all about how you lead your team.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Okay, so I don't work in a big company, but since when did corporate 'day out'/'tame building' start besmirching the word 'Hackathon'? Anything 'organised' ipso facto can't be one. secondly, this is a tech/engineering thing? (Thought I'd be freaked out if I heard plastic surgeons saying they were heading to one.) How is pretending you're deaf and some else blind, or trying to cross chairs with planks, or even the more terrifying 'think up a totally out of the box pitch for this boring product' got anything to do with hacking? GOD I HATE MARKETING PEOPLE!! I hate myself for taking their money...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Its not a new thing. I worked for a large British Telecoms company (who shall remain nameless), and they did these pretend hackathons fairly often.

    The usual formula was this:

    1. middle managers feel pressure to deliver something (anything!) as projects aren't going that well.

    2. having many terrible ideas, but not being able to implement them, they decide to create a hackathon

    3. their sh*te ideas are distributed to their poor dev team, who are instructed to present them as their own fresh ideas

    4. everyone trudges miserably to some terrible venue, the bed, board and food is dreadful.

    5. after 2 days a C-list senior, desperately failing to hide their contempt and boredom, is pressed into 'judging' the terrible ideas.

    6. the 'judges' and middle managers get together and arrange some kind of fix up

    7. everyone's a loser.

    well, im glad i got that off my chest!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They are great fun, if you keep the managers out of the way...

    In my old firm I used to help set up hack days/Innovation days/hackathons, whatever you want to call them.

    First you put up a board (virtual or physical) for techies to post their ideas on, and get everyone to vote for the ones they like and add any comments (such as "hey isn't this already covered by...", "aren't these two ideas basically the same...", etc.). Once you have enough ideas that have attracted some interest, set up a few open meetings, to whittle the ideas down, narrow or widen the scope of the ideas you are looking at. Once you have the required number of ideas, get a broad range of "volunteers" to populate your teams order pizza's and off you go...

    As stated you need to have regular checkpoints, to keep everyone on track, we used a scrum based approach which worked quite well.

    The ideas selected generally were of benefit to the tech community rather than the business directly (they can budget for their own projects ;-) ). Its was a good way to introduce people to new/different methodologies/technologies and to get people to network outside of their immediate team. And occasionally what came out was actually useful, although if you didn't get management backing to finish off what were usually prototypes, then they did tend to whither on the vine.

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