We Held Our First Hackathon and It Was a Great Success

Aoife McCardle
Digital Marketing Executive

At the end of last year, Nova Futur held an internal Hackathon event that was open to anyone who wanted to participate throughout the company; whether your role was in development or design, in data or in HR, all could participate and utilise their unique skills and knowledge. 

The first record of a ‘Hackathon’ was in June 1999 by OpenBSD, they brought 10 developers together to innovate a solution to a new problem that had arisen, the event was found to be extremely effective. It was originally named a ‘cryptographic development event’ with the term ‘Hackathon’ later being coined by Niels Provos of OpenBSD as a portmanteau of the words “hack” and “marathon” to encompass both the intensity and the length of these events.

Since this initial trial of the event, a further three to six have been held globally every year to advance development and trigger innovation. These events have had great success, after all the concept for the Facebook ‘Like’ button came from a hackathon as well as the birth of some major companies.

Now to pivot back to our Hackathon that took place over 4 days.The underlying aim of the Hackathon was also to encourage people across different teams to work together even if they never have before as this allows people the opportunity to build stronger bonds. The secondary objective was to use the event as a launchpad for new and exciting ideas within the company. 

On the first day all of the rules and objectives of the event were clearly presented to the participants and were as follows: 

Participation Rules:

  • All colleagues are welcome. From accounts  to reception, all can participate
  • Teams will form themselves, they will have direct power to decide how they operate, this includes team name, communication i.e. stand ups or slack only etc, and the decision on a prototype

Sandbox Rules and Objectives:

  • As long as it brings value to the business, everything is fair game
  • You need a prototype or a working idea to demo on the Friday (even if it is a design prototype)
  • People should not work in silos, it is a team engagement
  • All in the team members need to be involved, nobody can just sit back for the few days

By the morning of Day 2, all teams must have stated their team members and team names. Day 2 and 3 then consisted of hard work developing each team’s chosen idea and creating a final presentation to be shown after lunch on Day 4 at the Hackathon Showdown. 

We had teams of varying sizes up to seven people. Having spoken to some participants it was interesting to learn the ways each team adapted to communicate in the most effective manner while overcoming obstacles such as language barriers. When it came to discussing ideas, instead of having a larger group call with people accidentally speaking over one another or bits cutting out, one team shared a FigJam whiteboard (a feature on Figma). They found it easier to collaboratively write ideas on the virtual post it notes so everyone could read and contribute in their own time. This was helpful for creating the idea and then organising the delegation of work. Following this they had a stand-up each morning to track progress and set up a Slack channel to send direct messages throughout the day.

Another team in comparison had a slightly different approach, they took time away to independently brainstorm potential ideas and presented these ideas on a call to one another. After this they discussed the potential opportunities and blockers of each one, then each team member voted for their top 3 ideas and the idea with the most votes was pursued. They also created a Slack channel and would message regularly to track progress and sometimes had an ongoing call that people could hop in and out of while they worked.  

Though each team organised themselves in slightly different ways and worked on extremely different projects, all teams produced incredible results in just 3 days! Almost all of the feedback from the event stated that what people enjoyed the most was being able to work with people they otherwise would not have had an opportunity to work with. Participants felt heard and appreciated within their teams no matter their area of expertise and this shined through in the products that were produced.

A lot of people said they enjoyed the bonding experience with their teammates and even managed to have a laugh along the way while focusing on the task at hand. This was a rather high-pressure competition after all, it was a race to see what could actually be achieved in those 3 short days, what blockers would be faced and what sacrifices would have to be made in order to have something ready to present. In the end, each team overcame their unique blockers and presented some astonishingly good work.  

The management team at Nova Futur were the judges of this event and they were not only “blown away by the actual execution” but by the “quality” of the product ideas and the demos themselves. It shows everyone “what we can achieve in so little time” while also feeling the team spirit and amazing team pride from groups of people who had never worked together before. 

The nature of a Hackathon encourages creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, team-work, collaboration and innovation and that is exactly what everyone took from this experience, as well as a lot of fun! We look forward to holding more Hackathons in the future and plan to have some hopefully hosted in person and potentially open up Hackathons to external participants as well.

Written by:
Aoife McCardle
Contact email: