The Mobile Heartbeat team hosted our first ever hackathon recently at our headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts. In the face of technological difficulties, time constraints and good old-fashioned bugs, our employees spent 12 grueling hours bringing their ideas to life.
What Is a Hackathon?
We’re glad you asked. A hackathon isn’t about hacking into computers or compromising security. Rather, it’s an opportunity for our employees to take a day to work together on new ideas, passion projects and improvements to the MH-CURE platform.
Hackathons have been criticized in the past for producing a lot of vaporware—typically, participants are given free rein over what they’ll be working on, so you get a lot of unfocused, pie-in-the-sky ideas. That’s why we decided to do a Mobile Heartbeat-specific hackathon, in order to innovate around our communication platform.
“I thought it was the time to help bring people from different groups within Mobile Heartbeat together,” said Brian McKee, our engineering manager, who first came up with the idea. “A hackathon is about innovation, team building, doing something you don’t normally do at work and having fun.”
Hacking the MH-CURE Platform
Out of the 45 ideas our employees came up with, we selected the 10 strongest pitches and organized into teams. From there, each team (roughly five people each) worked diligently throughout the day to put together a working prototype or a proof of concept.
Projects ranged in scope and involvement, from implementing new device-tracking systems to updating photo capture technology. While each concept was unique, they all had one thing in common: They each brought additional value and functionality to our product.
Because the teams only had 12 hours to produce a working proof of concept, it was all hands on deck from the start. Mobile Heartbeat is fortunate to have dedicated staff—many team members arrived before 7 a.m. to get started, and they were all still there, plugging away, well after sunset.
“The best part was that there was no real competition during the hackathon. Members of one team were willing to spend precious time during the event helping other teams,” McKee said. “My team ran into a technical issue and a member of another team helped us resolve it, even though they were busy working on their idea. The hackathon was truly about building teamwork.”
There Can Only Be One Winner (or Four)
Just as those initial 45 ideas had to be whittled down to 10, only one of the 10 would be crowned victorious. Two runner-up ideas were selected as second and third place, and an additional fourth prize was awarded for the most cross-functional team, meaning the project team had non-developer hackers.
“I wasn’t sure if many of our employees outside engineering knew what a hackathon was,” McKee said. “Even if it was just engineering, I did think we could come up with some creative ideas, build some prototypes, and just have fun for a day. However, it exceeded my expectations as employees from marketing, support, solutions, project management, sales and business development all participated.”
Each hacker on the winning teams was awarded a cash prize, and the first-place team will also receive resources to implement their idea on a larger scale.
Everyone is excited for next year’s hackathon. At the rate our company is growing, next year’s event could be much bigger in size.
“I’ve been told by numerous people that it was their best day so far at Mobile Heartbeat,” McKee said. “It wasn’t just about making MH-CURE better, but making our internal processes better, too.”