Hackathons: Producing innovative solution and attracting talent


Hackathon in its essence is a competitive event wherein the winning team is awarded a prize money by the host company. Hackathon is the best way for a company to reach grassroots developers and analysts in search of fresh perspective and hope to reach an innovative breakthrough that will build a success model for them and give them an edge in the market segment.

Hackathons are sprint events that run from anywhere from 10 hours to 72 hours. The event brings teams to pit against each other to come up with a solution to the defined problem usually using technology. The teams are usually a mix of new talent participating with existing employees and other external mentors. Designers, coders, project managers, marketers and so on are some examples of typical participants in hackathons.

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The top global tech firms run their own Hackathons each year and the recent past has also added various levels of government bodies, NPO bodies and associations, national brands, start-ups and unicorns partaking in this trend. They are a sought after event for networking wherein start-ups and entrepreneurs can display their talent to secure funding from global giants/ investors.

A glimpse into some top tech firms running their own hackathons:

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Hash Code by Google: One of the three competitions by Google. Hash Code is a team programming competition by Google for interested people across the globe. You are allowed to pick your programming language and they pick for you an engineering problem to solve. Google also has running competitions named Code Jam and Kick start.

All programs offer multiple rewards and prize money.

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Microsoft Garage – Global Hackathon: Under their domain of Microsoft garage, the aim is to deliver programs and experiences to its employees, customers and partners. Their goal is to drive collaboration, creativity and experimentation. Within these initiatives Microsoft also runs annual global hackathons each year. It is considered to be the largest private hackathon on the planet.

Facebook Hackathon: Facebook, now known as Meta, hosts a hackathon event every few months for their employee base across the globe and encourages teams to come together to brainstorm and create something they believe will add to the brand’s user experience. Best ideas are selected via polling.

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The IBM Hack Challenge: IBM hosts a mega hackathon at pan India level. With exciting prizes to be won, IBM gives an opportunity for students to showcase their coding talent while learning new technologies and building an efficiently working solution. It is open to all engineering students in India.

Lensathon by Snapchat: India’s first AR lens creation hackathon. Using Snapchat’s Lens Studio – Lensathon is an online hackathon open to all Indians. It encourages them to use Lens studio and build eye catching lens filters for the app that offers one of its kind and exhilarating experiences for its user base. They offer Lens Studio workshops and claim it is so easy to use you’ll be ready in 45 mins. The prize pool consists of INR 3.5 lakhs to snap spectacles and swag bags.

Brands run these hackathons for internal or external audiences based on their needs, goals and objectives as well as their problem definition and the solution they seek. There are thousands of hackathons each year globally that offer prize money, job opportunities, funding and investment to concept development. Some perks for brands to host a hackathon include:

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Unlock creativity and accelerate innovation 

There is no doubt that hackathons help unlock the creative potential of its participants. In a limited timeframe brands have the opportunity to accelerate their innovation processes. While this job is led by the R&D department for any organization, the solutions R&D team can come up with will stay limited or already exist in the market compared to what a hackathon can offer. Hackathons offer the organizations an opportunity to innovate outside their silos and bring on board disruptive ideas from young developers. Not simply this leads to building new talent but also encourages start-up culture and entrepreneurship initiatives.

Grow your existing tech and platform

Many Hackathons run on open source, this means brands are willing to offer the participants an open source file wherein they can access a certain tool, codes, tech, present solution by the brand to the defined problem and work on the existing knowledge and information to grow the solution into a multifaceted or another disruptive solution. This includes the brands giving their top technology in the hands of some selected participants and developers who will help them with solutions to enhance the brands service/ product offerings to its user base. In simpler terms we can also say via the help of Hackathons firms are able to fully utilize the potential of their tech, effectively and efficiently.

New product offering

This is one of the prime benefits a brand can gain from hackathons. A new development gives any brand an edge in the market. With the free flow of ideas in a hackathon with socially diverse groups, innovations are bound to be inclusive and covering most aspects. It has been noted many times that these hackathons led to development of new applications based on emerging technologies. Since the time frame is short for hackathons, the full product is developed out of the prototype pitched in the competition. These prototypes are essential to lay the foundation for a novel product. Not to forget, many of the winners of such hackathons are offered lucrative packages to join the brand and build the product.

Brand Leadership

Leading tech brands globally run internal (employees based) to external (open to students and others) hackathons. In their own way via these hackathons brands are setting classic examples of on a). How to celebrate your present talent and offer them growth opportunities as well as, b). How invested are you in leading the growth of the sector with disruptive innovations? Hackathons lead to buzz generation for the brand as a dynamic market player. Local to global press, bloggers and influencers tend to cover such events and broadcast them to their audiences on social media. This helps grow a brand’s image in the market as they become a talent magnet where top students also are attracted to work with them.

Recruiting top talent

What better place than a hackathon to assess your talent, their ability and temperament under time sensitive conditions. From Paypal, Accenture, Chevrolet, Microsoft, IBM to Facebook – the biggest brands in various domains consider hackathons as a potent and strong potential recruitment tool. In the setting of hackathons, managers can witness live the ideation to implementation process of a prospective candidate, his/her ability to contribute in a team setting, under pressure and sensitive conversations. Leading brands have mentioned Hackathons to be the best test of a candidate’s skill as well as their temperament at the same time. While technical and subject matter expertise is an essential parameter for brands, they seek soft skills of a cool temperament, ability to handle pressure and their collaborative spirit as equally significant.

Celebrate talent and energize your team

Hackathons are not simple about attracting the right talent to your brand, but also celebrating talent by giving them the recognition, opportunity to grow and tools to learn. In other words, it also means to celebrate innovation and human capabilities. Many programs build a positive attitude in the participants and also act as motivators for them to tap into their talent and potential. A motivated team is energized and ready to produce effective solutions. This also helps brands to become known for the way they treat human assets involved in the innovation process and also what differentiates a leader in the marketplace.

Beyond these points, the simple practice of exploring, learning and communication that occurs during these hackathons is considered valuable since that is a takeaway for the participants and the host company.

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