The Angelina Jolie classic Hackers came out in 1995, but it wasn’t until June of 1999 that OpenBSD held the first hackathon. Since then, these events have become a proud tradition in Silicon Valley. They bring together programmers, designers and other subject matter experts to collaborate on novel ideas and make coding miracles happen on ridiculously short timetables.
Shutterstock, our parent company, holds an annual hackathon and it never disappoints. Teams from far and wide face off, focused on developing customer-focused hacks. Everyone, even the least technical employee, brings something to the team.
Hack to It
Getting all of your big brains in one room and encouraging them to shoot for the moon is great for ideation and it’s great for teams. People who don’t typically have much interaction with each other suddenly find themselves scribbling furiously on whiteboards, developing close bonds and creating clever hacks. Even if you don’t end up changing the world with your sweet code, you’ll likely make some new friends.
Having a shippable feature or improvement is certainly something to aim for, but the value of increased camaraderie shouldn’t be discounted. Studies show employees with strong friendships at work tend to be more focused, more collaborative and stay longer at their job.
There are some naysayers out there who claim hackathons are just glorified parties. While there are certainly shenanigans afoot, don’t let those haters get you down. Hackathons are like a science fair, a team building and an epic sleepover rolled into one. It’s about the most fun you can have while still getting real work done.
How We Hack
The rules of our Hackathon are straightforward. Hacks are meant to be customer-focused and improve experiences with our products. Each team must have at least four people from four different departments. They have to build and present a coded prototype within 24 hours, starting from scratch. Presentations can’t exceed two minutes, and if they do our CEO rings a gong to cut you off. An option is to make a video rather than present live.
There was a special new category this year, The Ultimate Plugin, that focused on extensibility: WordPress plugins, extensions and app gadgetry – the tools that enable shortcuts in the creative workflow.
Hack It Up
This year we had 37 teams hacking away around the clock. We can’t quite share details yet, but there were some truly visionary ideas and some practical hacks you may see in our products soon. One team created an algorithm that suggests digital media content pairings. Another experimented with blockchain-based cryptocurrencies. Something you can check out now is the prototype of our interactive company history.
As thrilling as product development and programming can be, hackathon work breaks are almost as fun. Scooter races, lip sync battles, pub-style trivia and a fierce table tennis tournament helped balance the serious with the seriously fun.
We used the infamous YouTube Channel First We Feast’s “Hot Ones” format to test our tastebud’s tolerances with a Hottest Wings Challenge. In the end, there were only a few who could handle the heat all the way to the most powerful pepper sauce. Though, many were happy to hang with our snackathon.
Hack With Us
If you’re thinking of hosting a hackathon at your company, we highly recommend it. The energy stays high for weeks and office carpet is fairly easy to clean. And if our culture sounds like something you’d vibe with, we’re always looking for more hot wings enthusiasts who love a challenge. Check out our careers page for current openings.