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At Hootsuite, we value innovation. We believe that it is important to allocate time to step back and tackle impactful issues. That is one of the reasons why we hold regular internal hackathons. Hackathons are a great way to get people thinking out of the box, sharing ideas, and growing their skills.

Hackathon 11/17 Logo

How does a Hackathon work exactly? First, employees pitch ideas (usually based upon a problem that they are trying to solve). Everyone has the option to either pitch online (through Workplace) or live on stage. Either way, they express their idea concisely and specify what skills and resources they are looking for to help bring the idea to life. Then everyone gets to decide what they want to work on. You can sign up with someone who pitched an idea or you can always do your own thing.

Ideas don’t have to be strictly technical, and non-technical people can always ask for technical help in their pitches, if they need it. We make hackathons inclusive because processes, media, and other aspects of the business can also be hacked.

Once everyone has a team the hacking begins! This time we allocated three days of hacking. On the last day everyone gets to demo what they achieved, good or bad. After all, you learn the most when failing.

Themes

This time around we had two main themes: “Enabling the Platform” and “Automagically”. The themes are there for focus, but also to encourage participants to align their hacks with company goals. You can always stray from the main themes and #gorouge as we like to call it.

The “Enabling the Platform” theme is geared towards the Hootsuite third-party app ecosystem. We want to have a great platform in which other developers can add-on capabilities. Hacks in this category would make it easier for developers to contribute to the ecosystem or improve the overall platform experience.

The “Automagically” theme looks to make our customers’ lives easier, or to automate their tasks. From batching of tasks to advanced artificial intelligence, anything that makes repetitive tasks easier or more intuitive qualifies.

The Pitches

We hosted the live pitches on the HQ1 main stage. The pitches were also broadcasted live for our owls in other offices to watch and participate. There were 15 live pitches and 24 online pitches for a total of 39 great ideas. The atmosphere at the pitches was very lively, a great way of getting everybody excited and ready for three days of hacking.

People then got a chance to find a team. Every person that pitched an idea was standing with the name of their idea on a piece of paper. Interested participants approached the idea holder and had a chat. From there, the teams were born. Form Birds of a feather to #hoggr, teams both large and small got to hacking.

People hacking People hacking People hacking People hacking

There were a total of 43 teams of which 13 hacked on the Automagically theme, 13 hacked on Enabling the Platform, and 17 were #goingrouge. The total number of participants was 129 people, almost all of our Product and Development teams across the world (some of them in more than one team #youmaketherules).

Demo Time

On Friday, starting at 1pm, everyone got a chance to demo their hack. Every team had three minutes to demo and one minute for questions. Our Toronto and New York offices kicked off the demos via live feed. Then we demoed Automagically-themed hacks in Vancouver followed by Enabling the Platform and finished off with #goingrouge.

People demoing

At the end of each theme group everyone got a chance to vote for the best hack in that group. This also allowed for much needed breaks.

And the winner is…

After four long but exciting hours of demos the votes were cast and we had the winners. We had 2 theme categories and 3 extra categories:

Automagically

Create AI Create.ai can predict the performance of a tweet as a user composes it. The team created and trained a deep neural network on a dataset of 50,000 tweets with the goal of predicting likes and retweets.

Enabling the Platform

APIs and webhooks The team, created a new integration for third-party developers. We don’t want to reveal too much, but keep an eye on the Hootsuite developers blog for a follow-up announcement.

Learning Opportunity (Failure)

Scoring Social Engagement Scoring user’s social behaviour from 0 to 5 using machine learning; social behaviour being your engagement with post and engagement on your posts. The idea is to help gauge a user’s social change after going through Hootsuite Academy training or using Amplify / Amplify + Selling.

Non-Technical Hack

Goodbyes are hard David rounded out his previous set of Hackathon animated emoji with a brand new set for slack.

Mobile Hack

Drag n’ Drop Apple introduced drag ‘n drop with iOS 11, allowing to easily move content from one app to another. Until now, the Hootsuite app was left out – no more! Drag ‘n drop allows to drag text, URLs, images and GIFs from any app straight to the Composer to attach them to the message. The feature will be available in the next release of the app.

Takeaways

A hackathon is a great way of getting a group of people to really focus on one thing. It’s amazing what a small team can achieve in a small amount of time.

Despite most of the participants being in Vancouver, it was a global effort with participants in Toronto, New York and Bucharest. So much so that a team from the New York office won best “Automagically” hack. As a global team which is working to be #bettertogether, it was great to see a project presented through the livestream get chosen as the best hack.

This hackathon produced a lot of great working implementations but it also was a great learning opportunity. Not all hacks were technical successes, but we recognize that failing is part of the learning process. Having a “Learning Opportunity” category in the prices encourages participants to stand in front of everyone and talk about what they tried and what they learned about it.

We will definitely continue to have hackathons at Hootsuite and we will improve how we do it to maximize impact and minimize friction. One thing we want to do better next time is the demos. Some demos are great but other ones can sometimes drag on for more than three minutes. We are thinking of ways to make this process better for next time.