We all believe that great ideas drive great solutions. Oftentimes the most creative problem solving occurs when far corners of the office come together in the spirit of innovation. That’s why we invited all 50onRed employees to participate in our second annual hackathon, an occasion to reinvent products and processes that touch every single member of the 50onRed team. The winners received cash prizes and the admiration of their colleagues. The challenge: we had only 24 hours to make our concepts come alive.
“You don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re forced to push your limits,” our software engineer intern Jugal Lodaya says. “Actually you sort of forget that your limits exist…that’s the beauty of it.”
Fueled by our monster La Colombe coffee machine, gourmet pizza dinner and a hearty breakfast the next morning, the office was buzzing all night on strong coffee and good ideas. Winning hacks were crowned the following morning by our strategy team. Crowd favorites took home a “People’s Choice” award and got to choose Monday’s catered lunch.
But even if you didn’t walk away with a cash prize, taking part in the hackathon was a valuable experience for first-time and experienced “hackers” alike. The desire to innovate and collaborate is what keeps 50onRed employees on their toes. Our values encourage us to improve ourselves, our company and the experiences of our customers every day. Here are a few of the biggest takeaways from our friendly competition:
When proposing a new idea, keep your plan simple. You should be able to explain, execute, and evaluate how your idea or product utilizes the best method to make life easier. Is it something that will help you and your coworkers work smarter? That’s golden.
This year’s winning team was lead by senior account manager, Sam Grillo. Her hack was a project that would streamline a tedious, time consuming process that she and her team face every day.
Some of the best products and hacks we saw this year were modifications to existing ideas. Just because an idea or product already exists, doesn’t mean it’s perfect. When mankind invented the wheel, we didn’t walk away from a stone slab and say, “that’s it.” We changed it, made it sleeker, faster and tougher when it needed to be.
Taking part in a hackathon is a chance to step outside your day-to-day routine and create something that makes your life easier, and customers happier. Think about what inconveniences you in your daily life, says software engineer, Matt Schmoyer. Chances are, it inconveniences someone else, too.
An example of a winning fix? Velcro, Schmoyer says. Someone took the simple idea that it’s a pain to their tie shoes and decided to find a better way, he says.
Hackathons are traditionally for programmers and developers, but they are evolving to include people with a variety of skill sets—and it’s a great team building exercise that doesn’t require awkward icebreakers to get to know each other better.
“It’s always good to step out of your comfort zone every now and again,” says senior operations specialist, Anna Cornog.
If silos are the death of great companies, hackathons are the quickest way to knock em’ down and #GSD! Passion is infectious in tech, but you can’t create a real thing until you spread that enthusiasm with people from other departments who can help turn your ideas into an awesome product, Cornog says.
Remember everything you said about yourself in your cover letter? Now is the time to be that person. It seems scary to put yourself and your ideas out there for criticism, but own what skills you have and find those who can fill your gaps in knowledge.
“Figure out where you can be of value [in a team],” says software engineer, Scot Lawrie. “Then find the right people to fill [in] the gaps of expertise.”
Give It 10
When there’s a time crunch you may think you need to power through exhaustion and breaks, but doing so can actually slow your overall progress. We took a page from marathoners here and adapted a trick called “time chunking.” Instead of dwelling on making it to the finish line, set short-term goals that give you mini confidence boosts and inch you closer to the end. You’ll keep your mind from tiring and approach bugs without frustration.
“I was told to spend no more than 10 minutes trying to figure something out,” says Lodaya. If it took more than 10 minutes, I switched to another path to solve it, he says.
Little Hacks = Big Change
Developing a product that improves your quality of life is good, but when it helps other people too—that’s a sign of greatness. The more reach your product has, the greater its potential to grow and evolve over time. Hackathons can provide the incubation time needed to nurse an idea to its full potential.
“Ultimately our work is now going to lead to numerous innovations in other related areas,” says business analyst, Dave Leek.
The next 24 hours are your time to soak up as much information as possible. Even if you’re not a team leader, there’s a lot you’ll be able to take away from the experience.
“It forced me to change my current way of thinking,” says business analyst, Steve Jones. “My every day is part hackathon, but it showed me that even though I’m an open thinker, there’s always room to be more open to ideas and expand on what exists.”
Burn The Midnight Oil
Staying late is great when you’re fueled by great ideas.
“Once I got my project rolling, it didn’t feel like a burden staying at work well past midnight,” says quantitative analyst, Ananth Benvinahally. “There wasn’t anything else I’d rather be doing—working on innovative projects can really motivate passionate employees.”
Do It Again
Our offices were buzzing with ideas before, during, and after the hackathon ended. “The real question is: How do we get people to think more like hackathon on regular days?” says product manager, Jack Li.
A few passionate employees are exploring different ways to let our brains run wild every day, and we’re excited to see what they come up with. Until then, we’re planning for next year’s hackathon!
Do you like to innovate? Want to make advertising better? We’re hiring! See our list of current opportunities here.