Learning to Hack – Hacking to Learn

To help communicate the message of DevOps and agile software development to the global business community at my company, we hosted a hackathon in partnership with Pivotal during our 2015 Business Priority Week (BPW). This is a global training event where around 350 business and technical leaders gather together for learning programs and to gain a better understanding of the Group’s business and market imperatives.

hackathon for corporate learning

There were two reasons for doing the hackathon:

  1. We wanted the BPW participants to experience new ways of better engaging with their clients and to find new ways of working with each other. The hackathon was a way to illustrate this within the framework of DevOps (a software development technique that will continue to increase in importance).
  1. We wanted the teams from my company’s custom software development division to experience learning in a multidisciplinary environment that included customer experience people and the “clients” for the software they would develop.

The challenge of the event was for customer software development teams to create an app that would improve the learning experience for the BPW participants. As part of this, the teams needed to engage with the participants, show them their ideas, and iterate based on their reactions, inputs and feedback. Each team was given an open and interactive space where they could engage with the BPW participants and the time limit for the hackathon was set at 36 hours.

The results

After the 36 hours were up, each team was given 10 minutes to pitch their solution to the 350 participants that they had engaged with. It was the participants – the potential users of the app – who decided which one they liked the best.

The team that won was selected largely because of their ability to deliver on both the technical and customer experience aspects of their solution. They knew how to engage well with the participants. They were fun, offering people snacks in the breaks! Also their app was a good blend of practical things that people would find useful at a Corporate Learning event (such as being able to see participants’ LinkedIn profiles, which course they were following and which room that was being held in) as well as gamified networking tools, encouraging people to interact through exchanging drinks coupons.

What did the teams get out of it?

The hackathon teams had to learn how to work with each other in a fast-paced environment, to deliver something in 36 hours, and get a prototype ready. They also had to engage with the participants over the course of the 36 hours. Finally they had to pitch their idea. These were technical people who were more used to talking about technical features but they were told to focus on the benefits to the app user.

What did the BPW participants get out of it?

They experienced new ways they could work with, and engage with, clients. They were also involved in helping to develop a useful app that will improve their experience the next time they come to a University Campus Learning Event.

Overall, this event was an excellent demonstration of the power of agile development and DevOps practices. However, this hackathon didn’t just come together. It took a team six weeks of preparation to pull it together from concept to execution. In my next post I will highlight some of the key ingredients that helped make this event such a success.

Have you run Hackathons for learning in your organization? What benefits have you seen from them?

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