Hackathons: What’s the Big Fuss?

For some, the concept of a hackathon will be all too familiar – you’ve participated in them either internally within a company or outside of work at various functions. For others, you’ll have a general idea of what they are and why they exist.

If you’re like me, initially hearing the word prompted images of a real life Fruit Ninja competition in my head. A better literal translation could be “hacker-thon” but in case you’re thinking it, it also doesn’t consist of a bunch of hackers who come together to hack into people’s computers. So what is it?

 

 

What is a Hackathon?

Simply put, “A hackathon is a collaborative approach to problem-solving where participants from different parts of the organization come together and work towards building something great.” – Mike Child, CTO of RentPath

This especially applies to company-wide hackathons in which there are cross-functional teams that aren’t exclusive to only those who know how to program or code.

These design sprint-like events usually span over a short period of time typically ranging from a few hours to a week. They start with a kickoff to review the challenges or with a pitch day followed by the actual hacking up until Demo Day.

 

A Different Approach

RentPath had its third annual company-wide hackathon inviting all innovators, or disruptors, to come up with new and creative solutions for a few existing concepts. This week-long event had 4 teams – each headed up by a team lead for more focused and efficient hacking to take place.

“This time around we assigned tasks”, Mike said, versus picking the top five ideas from 22 ideas that were pitched. “The leadership team got together and picked four challenges that the business is currently facing” which allowed for a more structured process.

 

 

There was also a unique spin on the more traditional hackathon – RentPath Gives Back hosted its first ever altruistic hackathon. The theme was focused on solving a specific challenge for four Atlanta-based nonprofits all with the mission to eradicate homelessness.

“Our Hackathon team formed a unique bond as we learned about each other and drew inspiration from RentPath’s ongoing mission to help people who are struggling to put roofs over their heads.” – Devin Lenz, Level I Concierge of RentPath

 

 

Why do we bother?

The beauty of these company-wide hackathons is that it truly allows for an unforgettable learning experience and flow of creativity as you have different perspectives and insights from various teammates that all have something to bring to the table.

Ultimately we hope to come out of these with innovative ways to “find solutions to or at least concepts that we could then decide if we want to pursue” for the real challenges RentPath is faced with right now – “and to do it in a VERY short timeframe”, Mike says.

The other reason to go through such madness is simply put – collaboration. Mike will tell you that “getting people who don’t normally work together to actually work together – taking what seems like huge problems breaking them down into component parts and then solving those big problems in a very short amount of time” is what we want to see come out of these events. “If we can take that practice forward and do it the other 51 weeks of the year, it’s a win for the company.”

 

 

“The previous two have really paid dividends – there are things that are in production on our sites today that were either directly from a hackathon or a derivative of something from a hackathon”.

 

How would you encourage those who have not participated in a hackathon to participate?

“Talk to a participant – the feedback is always extremely positive. People say it’s one of the best things that they’ve done in their professional careers. It’s a chance to develop something in 4 days, put it in front of real people in the rental journey and immediately see the reaction to it by potential consumers.”

 

We’re hiring! Check out our open positions at workatrentpath.com.

 

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