Why every CTO should invest time in hackathons

The word hackathon is a bit of a misnomer – there is little or no hacking in the usual sense of the word that is undertaken, but more development and building of software applications in collaboration with others. Far from being seen as an extra-curricular activity beyond business-as-usual, hackathons are becoming more mainstream thanks to their benefits to an organisation’s team of coders. Here we look at the top five benefits of holding either internal or external hackathons.

1. Driving a culture of innovation
Business as usual development is necessary, but creativity and innovation come from pushing boundaries – and developers love to make visionary concepts come to life in real world solutions. Some of the best needs are discovered and problems solved in a hackathon where developers can really be creative and push the risk boundaries to drive innovation outside of their daily work routines. Pushing these creativity and innovation boundaries delivers dividends for the organisation. Hackathons don’t need to be ‘external’ either, they can promote creativity and throw off the shackles of internal bureaucracy to achieve innovative outcomes.

2. Staff retention and recruitment
Hackathons are an excellent way to make an existing development team feel loved as well as helping to find new talent. Software developers are in short supply thanks to a skills gap, so from a recruitment perspective a hackathon comes as close to putting a candidate through their paces as possible – and seeing how they cope with the challenge. Those organisations that hold regular hackathons gain an awareness in the development community as being hackathon-friendly – and are therefore more likely to attract talent. Similarly, they are more likely to hold on to their existing developers.

3. Inspires learning at all levels
Hackathons are for every level of developer – and provide an excellent learning ground. They often showcase different development tools, languages and sometimes provide mentors to guide participants. Developers learn risk free outside of the usual parameters of their required daily jobs and comfort zones.

4. Strengthens your image
Building bridges with the community of developers works to increase awareness of a brand within the technology world. It shifts perception with developers that the organisation is a leader in its field and helps to develop mindshare for the organisation as a whole – not just the development team – supporting the wider marketing effort in terms of brand development.

5. A sense of accomplishment and fun!
Developers that take part in a hackathon work tirelessly to reach the end goal of building something new or different to what they’re used to. That might include learning new techniques or programming languages – so to be able to present a demo of what has been built over a 24-48-hour period is a priceless feeling of accomplishment. Hackathons are a demonstration of collaboration, motivation and a source of huge enjoyment for those developers who push themselves to the limit to achieve something new.