Why our virtual hackathon could be our best yet

Nothing gets in the way of the Iress global hackathon. Events all around us have been cancelled, we were determined not to let our hackathon be one of them.

For the past six years, Iress has held a global hackathon bringing together teams from across the world to unleash their creativity and think up bold new ways to solve problems for our clients and people.

In many ways, this year’s hackathon on Thursday 11 June will be similar to what we’ve done in previous years - open up to ideas and give teams 24 hours to develop those ideas as close to production as they can before presenting them to a judging panel to determine a winner.

The only real difference - a big one - is that everyone will be at home.

This will be our first ever virtual hackathon. The things we’d normally get excited about - the buzz about the office, running round assembling teams, anticipating when pizza’s going to turn up - won’t exist in the same way. They are what make the hackathon such a special and fun event to be part of. Are we crazy to try to replicate that when we’re all at home?

It will be a challenge but I think it could make it our best hackathon yet. Here’s why.

Our remote working mojo

We’ve seen over the past few months just how well teams can adapt to working remotely. We currently have nearly 2,000 people in the swing of working from home and were able to make a rapid and relatively pain-free shift to remote working because we’re a global team and already had the flexible working practices and workplace technology stack to make it possible.

There are less barriers than ever in teams joining forces and it’s a perfect chance to get the right people, doing the right job, to get the best outcome.

Andrew Todd
CTO

We know from experience that cross-functional teams perform better. In hackathons past, some of the best ideas have been executed by teams that are cross-functional, regional and distributed. Thinking about how we’re working now, and we are working in a really distributed way, there’s an opportunity to pull together the best people to deliver an idea regardless of where they are. There are less barriers than ever in teams joining forces and it’s a perfect chance to get the right people, doing the right job, to get the best outcome (and this doesn’t just apply to hackathons).

The crucial thing will be for teams to think about how they will engage with each other. Open Zoom is a great example of that. I’ve heard good stories recently about teams who have open Zoom channels going (where you don’t have a scheduled meeting time but leave it open for people to join when they can to just hear the discussions taking place). I definitely expect to see more of that during our hackathon along with even greater use of the collaboration tools we make available including Slack, Jira and Miro, and remote pairing tools for engineering teams. The most important thing is ensuring no one is isolated or working by themselves.

Which brings me nicely onto what every hackathon is really about - having fun.

Those hackathon vibes

Whether in the office or at home, when a hackathon runs over 24 hours or more, you need something to keep the motivation and spirit going.

We’re determined to re-create the hackathon vibe we’re used to and have been looking at creative ways we can do that virtually. In previous hackathons, we’d be creating the vibe with a customary Iress hackathon t-shirt, decorations, beer and pizza. This year it’s all about the ‘virtual vibe’ so we’ll be keeping our teams going with hackathon house parties, virtual workout classes, TikTok challenges and a Spotify playlist throughout the 24 hours.

I am sure teams will also find their own imaginative ways to recreate the fun and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with. So although we won’t have the t-shirt this year, I know we’ll all work together to make it another memorable hackathon.

One really big advantage

As much as they are fun, let’s face it, hackathons can be chaotic. It’s a competition after all and there’s a lot to get done in 24 hours as teams compete to get their ideas as close to production as possible.

In the office it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and chaos of a hackathon. Doing it virtually should mean participants will have a better chance to think about how they can organise better and use the time most effectively. Those that are smart about it will form global teams across Sydney to Toronto, turning 24 hours into 38 hours of glorious hack time.

Being at home, making time to focus will be even more important. Ever since the requirement to work from home came in, we’ve been running sessions on mindfulness, resilience and productivity to help our people manage the work/life balance. The hackathon is an ideal opportunity to put some of what we’ve learned into practice.

Whether in the office or at home, hackathons are the ultimate test of teamwork and endurance and this year will be no different. So let’s not forget the biggest advantage of doing the hackathon at home - you’ve got your own bed.

The Iress hackathon kicks off at 10:00am local time on Thursday 11 June. Follow the action on the Iress social media channels and on the hashtag #iresshackathon20

Can you see yourself being part of our next hackathon? We’re recruiting so come and join us.