Hackathons and 20% Time

According to this article, Google’s 20% time never really existed. I’ve always guessed as much, joking with Google friends that their 20% time really could only be taken on Saturday and Sunday. Which is all the same: Engaged employees do what they feel needs to be done no matter what and when.

Hackathons, however, exist. Facebook, SAP, and Suse are example companies that organize them with the purpose of prototyping potential new products. For all that I can say, the dirty little secret is that there are no successful hackathons without 20% time (make it +/- 15%). I’m betting that rarely was there a successful hackathon without a run-up to the hackathon that involved significant preparation, that is, “20% time”.

As a consequence, for hackathons to succeed, employees must not be disenfranchised or overworked. Otherwise they won’t spend their personal time talking about and preparing for a hackathon. Also, they should have a purpose, that is, be tuned in to the company’s mission. I guess this means that the better the company is doing, the more likely it is to get something out of their hackathons.

6 Replies to “Hackathons and 20% Time”

  1. Has there ever been a Hackathon here in Erlangen or are there maybe any plans to host one?
    Based on past courses the times we as students spent days looked up in some room trying to built something as a team (MAD release parties, Blender seminar) were some of the most memorable experiences in my studies and many people I have talked to concur. Would really love to see more of those events at the FAU (AMOS 2015?).

  2. @phillipp Some resp. it depends. Companies internally do it (all the time). I.e. Suse reports about its hackathons but you have to be an employee.
    At the university, MAD and AMOS are related courses but not organized as a squeeze-everything in 24h or one week but as regular courses.
    I hesitate to randomly call for hackathons, because for the question is: What comes after the hackathon? Suse internally can use it to explore projects to support (or drop).
    What should we do at the university? The chances that a random idea will lead to a viable business does not make sense to me. So a hackathon needs preparation.
    What we have done in the past is organize a hackathon for an AMOS project after the course had finished, because there were engaged students. This can be used to propel an existing project forward. I’d like to do that if there is a team and an idea that seem to work well.

  3. In my experience internal “Hackathons” often mean “we have overcommitted engineering resources so need to encourage workers to put in more hours”.

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