Hackathons: New age incubators

nitw_hackathon_3.0The landscape of product development has changed drastically over the last few years. Democratization of open source/tools, passion for innovation and entrepreneurship, talented engineers has re-written the competitive landscape. In this context, Emertxe believe Hackathons are great way to promote product incubation and innovative thinking among engineers. We got our first taste of it when we sponsored second edition of Hackathon at NIT Warangal during August 2014. The event was conducted in collaboration with Lakshya Foundation an NGO is working as a bridge between the college and alumni fraternity to promote innovation & entrepreneurship. In flat 24 hours teams could convert an idea into working prototype which was a remarkable result. As we sponsor third edition of the Hackathon during Jan 2015, we would like to share our top-3 learnings from Hackathons.

Before getting into it, let us try to understand what Hackathons are all about. It’s a new age, brute force method where a bunch of engineers get together, form a team and work on building a minimum viable product (MVP) by continuously working on it for 24 / 48 / 72 hours. The end result is a demonstrable proof-of-concept, which ensures that the idea is indeed implementable. The core idea can be indigenous thought by the team or given by organizers of Hackathon.

Now coming to our learnings,

Learning 1: Working product – really matters!

The Agile way of product development strongly argues for working software as the primary measure of progress, which is very true in modern age product development. It doesn’t mean we need to give-up processes and documentation though. During Hackathons, teams will keep focus on building a working prototype, which gives actual meat to any idea. In today’s world anybody can have an idea but converting into a working agile_working_softwaresolution where real challenge lies. By going thru this experience in a short span of time, engineers will get a real idea into productizing an idea, which itself is a major takeaway.

Learning 2: Constraints and constraints

When it comes to start-ups, teams always operate on a resource constrained environment. During Hackathon main resource constraint is imposed in terms of time, by giving maximum of 24 / 48 / 72 hours of time within which teams have to produce some output. This creates tremendous pressure on them to self-organize themselves by demonstrating highest order of teamwork, planning and agile way of working. Nobody exactly know whats going to happen by the end of 24 hours, but still they need to buckle up every hour and keep moving. Such situations give a feel of bootstrapping start-ups.

Learning 3: The MVP paradigm

During Hackathons teams work on implementing idea into end-to-end use case for customer, rather than focusing on a specific feature. Often working for larger organizations, engineers hardly get to know how the product is actually used by the customer. In case of Hackathons a reverse approach it taken where teams take a particular use case and build on it. This gives them a broader view of product, understand limitations / challenges / issues that might come up during 11th hour. After building MVP, teams will build higher confidence during actual implementation of product. In a short term, this expands horizon of thinking.

Here is an example video of a MVP built by one of the teams during last Hackathon. Known as Motor Vehicle Black Box (MVBB), this solution addresses traffic & driver related issues faced in big cities. By demonstrating this IoT idea both from Embedded & Software side, teams have gained tremendous confidence in building on ideas. For the next edition we have planned another idea, will share our experiences as we move forward.

Stay tuned for more updates, check out the following URL for more details: http://www.thelakshyafoundation.org/hackathon

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