Our Virtual Hackathon
Hackathons hold a special place in my heart (read: career path). As a fledgling programmer looking to transition into an engineering role, I attended Meetup’s company Hackathons, throwing together projects that let me flex my coding skills. I got to work with folks across the company that I normally would not get to work with, developing projects that could really help our members and organizers.
Fast forward several years, our Engineering Leadership team sought to prioritize and coordinate a company Hackathon as a tactic towards our Employee Engagement Company Objective.
Which leads me to…
Why we hack
Hackathons provide many benefits, such as:
- giving engineers (plus product, design, and members of other teams) the space to experiment and be bold
- acting as a forcing mechanism for working with people you don’t normally get to work with
- producing real, “shippable” features into the product
- being plain old fun
Once we knew we wanted to hold a Hackathon, the next step was pulling it all together.
Considerations while getting started
Hacking in a remote environment. Being in an all-remote environment, we knew the event had to be virtual and leverage our existing communication tools. We used Zoom and Slack for this.
Making space and time to hack. We coordinated with the product team and other leaders across the organization to make sure we were able to get participants real time to hack, knowing that it would slow down some development time on product work for two days.
Choosing a theme. For this version of the Hackathon the timing worked out nicely to celebrate Meetup’s 20th Anniversary, so there was our theme right there.
How we did it
A few weeks before the Hackathon we started a Slack channel and a spreadsheet for people to join and contribute ideas for projects. We leveraged our customer and employee product feedback tool, Nolt, for ideas as well.
Hacking began with a kickoff meeting, setting the expectations for the next two days of hacking and going around the Zoom room for participants to share their ideas and solicit help for their team.
Once the teams were formed, many groups started their own Slack channels and spent the next two days working on their projects while on Slack Huddles or Zoom calls with one another. Most group projects were spearheaded by engineers and product managers and designers came in to offer help. In some instances, engineers got to wear many “hats” — creating designs and scoping out the work to be done over the next two days.
On the third day we held demos over Zoom and invited all Meetup employees to come watch. We had members of our Lead Team act as judges. They evaluated projects on the basis of could we see these projects being real features in our product and how these ideas would impact our key company objectives.
We saw some really strong, creative ideas that included:
- a feature to highlight the guest speaker for Meetup events
- the ability to more quickly iterate on our search functionality
- an integration for sharing rich media content to social media for Meetup events
Ultimately, the winning ideas were:
- adding an event map functionality to the apps
- a feature for connecting and following other Meetup members that you meet at events
- the ability to “boost” your Meetup event in search results
At the end of the awards ceremony, we sent out a feedback survey to participants and received a real positive sentiment overall, with suggestions for how to iterate on this event in the future.
Takeaways and Next Steps
We are considering this Hackathon a huge success. Not only did it lead to real, actionable projects that we are looking to prioritize in our upcoming product roadmap, it also brought folks from across the company together, solving problems creatively.
And now we get to look forward to planning our next Hackathon!