Accelerating Innovation in the Workplace— Cactus Tech’s First Hackathon
Reflections on our first hackathon —yeah, that stuff of Silicon Valley lore
Many of us have dabbled with meditation and contemplation during the lockdown. I took this rare opportunity to ponder upon some of my most favorite moments in the office last year (when we were worried about getting flattened during the commute to work and not about flattening the curve). The Cackathon (because that’s cooler and not as mouthful as Cactus Hackathon), our very first internal hackathon organized by and for the technology team at Cactus Communications, was, for me, the highlight of the previous year. It comprised of hours of intense brainstorming with the entire technology bay bubbling excitedly, high on caffeine and ideas, harvesting facts and figures speedily, and creating meaningful solutions for some stubborn business challenges.
From 20th to 21st September 2019, after a sleepless 24 hours of coffee and energy drinks, analysis and data-driven decisions, collaborating and coding, formulas and fixing, 6 teams were ready for the showdown. While all groups generated new approaches to the problems presented, 3 winning teams were definitely forces to be reckoned with and were awarded with a well-deserved prize money of ₹36,000!
“Cackathon was a unique event in itself. Never have we seen so much energy put in by a group of eager participants for an exercise of this nature.
While this was a welcome break from the daily routine for everyone, knowing that they are posed with real-world problems made it even more exciting.” — Amruta Chogale, Senior PM, Tech
What did we do different that made our first hackathon such a success?
- While most hackathons are programming-focused, Cackathon was completely dynamic in its structure and participation. Our inexperience in an event as such gave us the advantage of changing the rules of the game to allow for creativity to flow through not just hardcore programmers, but those with expertise elsewhere (UI/UX designers, project managers, product enthusiasts, data scientists, etc.).
- While there are a great many benefits of a hackathon — team collaboration, innovation, building brand new products which are generally out of the scope of your day-to-day work, adding value to your CV, etc. — Cackathon also offers a handsome cash prize and participation certificates to all. Moreover, every participant receives an elegant goodie bag with customized items (T-shirts, stickers, badges, notebooks, and all the cool stuff) and lip-smacking delicacies.
- Not only did we receive a total of 60 participants from technology teams across 4 different functions at CACTUS, but also more than 10 registrations on the day of the event! However, the biggest attraction was that people could try out new and interesting roles for a day; those dissimilar to their professional titles(what’s in a title, anyway?)! With flocks of techies pouring in and assuming roles they never had before, the results were one-of-a-kind and very impressive.
- The goal was simple: to take an assigned problem statement developed by a business leader, experiment with new technologies, collaborate with team members, and present your solutions to a panel of experts, in the spirit of healthy competition; all this, while having fun with your teammates.
What I learnt from organizing and participating in my first hackathon
Of course, hackathons are a great way to encourage collaboration, and to engage and inform employees. Not only do they help reinforce the idea that businesses are after all part of a creative ecosystem, but also strengthen a culture of ‘speed innovation’ in a day and time when agile is the norm.
For me, the most memorable takeaway was the support and guidance that participants gave to each other, irrespective of the team they belonged to. Another important learning was that time is the most precious resource, and while working in a team, you must identify where your strength and expertise lie to contribute most efficiently to a common goal. You may find it in your own work, or you may have to transcend borders of comfort, dependence and, assurance. Nonetheless, if you seek it… well, that’s a beginning.