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Why Tech Companies Need a Hackathon Strategy
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There were only a few hours left at a recent hackathon held at ironSource and the teams were making their final tweaks to their projects. During a snack run, one participant spotted his colleague, a backend developer, working on something he didn’t expect.

“I didn’t know you could program frontend,” he commented.

“Man,” his colleague said frantically. “Neither did I.”

This is part of the magic of hackathons; everything you do is out of the ordinary. The participants’ skills and fortitude are tested under demanding circumstances. No matter how the project looks at the end, all the participants know they are better developers as a result of the process.

But developers aren’t the only ones who benefit from a hackathon--the whole hosting organization can get a morale and material boost. Whether you’re hosting internally or you’re attending an external hackathon, there’s always something to be gained. Here’s why ironSource is all-in when it comes to hackathons.  

Why We Encourage Our Developers to Participate
Personal Development

By their very design, hackathons put developers in some very challenging circumstances. Only a few hours to bring your team’s idea to fruition--how are you going to do it? We love employees who can thrive under pressure, and the demanding environment of a hackathon demands that the participants ‘dig deep’ and push themselves to the limit. It’s also a great way for developers to boost their confidence and sharpen their skills.

Ariel Mashraki, an ironSource software developer, used the coffee-fueled 36 hours at HackGenY to create HackDuck, a stuffed animal that answers questions and generates relevant quizzes back to the asker. “These events really challenge you,” he said about the event. “You get to try something totally new, and even if it doesn’t work, it’s still a lot of fun.”

New Technologies

The best hackathons introduce a novel premise, or force the participants to use a new method or device. We want our teams to be aware of the latest techniques, even if they aren’t directly applicable to their day-to-day work. “Hackathons help you stay at the edge of the technology industry,” says Infrastructure team leader Shimon Tolts. “We love innovation of all kinds.”

Networking

Hackathons are known for their friendly atmosphere. It’s common for participants to offer advice to their ‘competition’, and the award ceremony is often little more than a formality.

This laid-back, open environment is ideal for developers to make meaningful connections. Hackathons are meetups for the developer community. More connections leads to more exposure and more interest in your work. Sharing ideas and collaborating with other talented people leads to the spread of knowledge. It’s a meaningful cycle that we want our teams to be a part of. Making friends is energizing.

Sparking Creativity

In a typical software development setting, risk-taking is tightly controlled; it’s better to make a conservative error than take a costly risk. But in a hackathon there are virtually no consequences for unorthodox methods. Developers can run wild. It’s a perfect environment for experimentation. Maybe the risk won’t pan out, but the lessons learned will be invaluable.

Why We Host
Recruiting

Hackathons are hotspots for tech talent; having many qualified candidates in one room makes recruiting much more efficient.  

Every serious tech company is looking for developers who are not only skillful, but good at working in groups. Hackathons naturally select for this mix of qualities. And many of the developers are using the event to show off their skills to potential employers. It’s a great way to begin the recruitment dialogue.

Branding

Providing hackathons with the capital and space they need has been instrumental in helping us create a strong name for ourselves in the tech community in Tel Aviv. Developers take notice when a company’s management invests in their community. We’re not timid about our vision to be a major player in the internet industry. We like these events in part because we can communicate our message through our products and the experts that create them.

Large companies also use hackathons to breathe life into their products. Whether looking for new uses for an existing API or stimulating new product ideas, hackathons are sure to generate a bevy of new creative directions. And while all this innovation is taking place, you are simultaneously spreading the word about your technology.  

Why We Judge
Giving Back

Mentoring and judging are great ways to contribute to hackathons aside from writing a check. “Of course we want people to know about ironSource”, said Tolts. “But we also want to give back to the community, to show what we’ve learned and teach through our open source projects.”

The far-reaching benefits of hackathons can supplement the goals of nearly every department in a tech company. R&D teams leave bubbling with new ideas, HR walks away with CVs, and Marketing gets an infusion of publicity. It’s time to make hackathons a key part of your community strategy.

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