The following transcription was a part of interview for top student organisation with Urška Jež, organiser and regional champion of Hackathon concept. She is one of those people, that makes idea come to life in a record time, sees every individual as one of the king and supports them to build on their weaknesses. Read bellow what she had to share with us
What is a Hackathon and for whom it is?
Hackathon is an innovative way of involving creative individuals in finding and solving certain challenges, whether it is programming, product, business or finding answers, to improve the procurement process, e.g., the peculiarity of the event is that it is extremely intense, as everything happens within a few days. From getting to know each other and putting together teams, explaining challenges, setting expectations, to the very final presentation of an idea.
In most cases, we are talking about 36 or 48 hours. Hackathon’s are intended for everyone who wants to try something new. At Hekaton itself, you always learn a lot, even about yourself, and above all, it’s a great networking event. For the most part, the challenges for Hackathons are posed by companies, which then also actively participate. How many potential job seekers can say that they met the entire management of a company in one weekend?
How did the story of Hackathon even begin? Where does this concept come from?
The very meaning of the word Hackathon comes from the English “to hack”, which means to break in. The first Hackathons were exclusively for coding to find “holes” in software systems. The beginnings date back to 1999. Since the mid-2000s, however, they have become a popular way for companies to get quick solutions to their challenges. In the beginning purely programming. Over the years, it has also developed into a search for business challenges, mixed, the search for various innovative answers to various questions that plague companies. They have become very widespread in our country in 2015 and 2016, and since then it has been a very popular way of connecting companies and young people, where, of course, countless new opportunities are being born.
So, if we look at a glance, young people solve the challenges of companies and potentially receive awards, and companies get new, innovative solutions. What skills do young people acquire during the process?
That’s right. Let’s not forget that companies can also get new, driven employees. Hekaton is like one quick course on the basics of entrepreneurship on steroids. In two days, the competitors (young at heart, as we host all generations) get to know their new team, meet the challenges, mentors and new environment. And then they have less than 2 full days in total, not only to come up with the most innovative solution, but also to test it with users and make a business plan out of it. Many times, also product design. In the end, they have to impress the judging panel with a perfect presentation.
Our task during Hackathon is to help them through all these phases. We conduct mini workshops on effective networking and teamwork, design thinking, preparation of a business model and presentations according to the CO * STAR method. They also have professional mentors available at all times. In fact, Hekaton, for all who want it, is an event from which you take away invaluable knowledge, skills and acquaintances, while still having immense fun. It gives immeasurable breadth for all subsequent projects. And that’s why we have a huge number of returnees. We’ve created a real little hacker subculture.
I find them to be the best party for the weekend. And if I don’t organize my own, I apply for one, as it was this week, when I actually participated as a competitor in the MIT COVID19 Hekaton – out of pure curiosity and desire for new acquaintances, if we can’t leave our homes.
What do young people say about their participation?
When organizing Hackathons, you need to know that your client (in addition to the client of the challenge or sponsor of the event) is actually each individual competitor. And that’s why we really try to give everyone an invaluable experience. Since we have a lot of returnees, we can say that they all take away at least new friendships. In such conditions as they are in on a Hackathon, they get to know each other and create together, there is no time to wander and play. The connections that are made are lasting and of high quality.
Hackers love the adrenaline rush of finding something new, creating outside the comfort zone. Of course, they also appreciate the accessibility of the directors and board members of the subscribers who are usually present at Hackathons. Can you imagine that you are in the final year of high school and that a member of the management board of a larger Slovenian company talks to you on an equal footing? Priceless.
Certainly, the possibility of getting to know employees by clients who also compete and understanding the company for which you are looking for solutions should not be neglected. These are all the comments we receive. Of course, the level of enthusiasm is also somewhat conditioned by whether the team has received any award. In principle, however, we constantly strive to keep hackers from the event excited, inspired and driven for more.
Why would anyone join a Hackathon?
The reasons are different. And so we at Hackathon always check why someone signed up. The predominant one is to try something new. To learn something new. That they might get a chance at a new job. To meet new people. To have fun.
It’s hard to describe how all of this is possible in as little as 36-48 hours, but it is. Everything and more. That’s why I always say, everyone should test themselves at some sort of a Hackathon at least once in their life. It opens the door to a new world of how one can work and co-create without artificial distance. It’s agility, innovation and accelerated fun.
Is there is a selection process, who can join at all?
Usually yes. Depending on the client, the challenge and of course the challenge itself. However, practice shows that the more diversified the team, the more imaginative and creative solutions we get. That is why, no matter the challenge, we never close ourselves to just one industry. Only the number of how many outside the industry will participate, will be regulated. Applications are always open to anyone who wants this experience. However, the candidate must describe in the application form why he / she is applying, what idea he / she has and what he / she will contribute to the team. Honestly, more to help us put together a team than to make it a condition.
If I were to say so “by heart” or according to statistics, what is the profile of young people who mostly decide to participate? Maybe above-average intelligent, maybe future entrepreneurs or even completely “ordinary” young people with an enormous desire for creation, something new?
Yes, of course we also keep some statistics of the participants. However, more in terms of study / profession, gender, age… Let me say that so far, we have had the youngest competitor aged 13 and the oldest 63. Most of them are students of different fields. It is mainly about curious, creative young people. When you follow them for a long time, you see who has gone and ventured the entrepreneurial path. Interestingly, most of the high school hackers we’ve worked with already have their first business when they go to college.
All competitors have a common denominator – an enormous desire to test themselves, innovate, create and meet like-minded people. We will see in which direction their paths will go. What most of them have in common, however, is that they are very engaged in various initiatives, entrepreneurial workshops, innovative days, in short, they develop their potentials. And Hackathon is definitely one of a great way to do that.
Is Hackathon a bridge between future employers and young talent? Have long-term synergies intertwined during the Hackathon?
Absolutely! In fact, we somewhat neglected this aspect when we started with Hackathons. It wasn’t until later, when we reviewed how many young people after Hackathon get a chance for their first job, that we began to pay more attention to this aspect as well. We have developed our own method of assessing, on the basis of Hackathon, for which work someone is most suitable, and so we can also specifically advise companies and, of course, job seekers. In recent years, of course, we have also been organizing Hackathons, which have the sole goal of getting new talents for the client. The search for ideas is of secondary importance, or rather, through the search for solutions, the client sees who would be most suitable for the place that would be occupied by candidates from Hackathon.
In addition to employment, synergies also arise in the development from an idea to a product suitable for sale or use within the client’s system. We also cooperate with the client, as we actually run all the workshops so that this happens in the shortest possible time. In this way, we get new startups from Hackathon, which already have the first client. In what form they then continue to cooperate, however, varies from case to case. In any case, we can say without any doubt that this is a more lasting synergy that is born between competitors and employers in Hackathon.
Does Hackathon also have an international “vibe”?
Always! Except for the open data Hackathons, which were created on the initiative of the Ministry of Public Administration, where the competitors had to be from Slovenia due to the tender conditions, all of the others remain international. Thus, we have already hosted competitors from Russia, Turkey, Japan, USA, at least one team from Croatia, one from Serbia, Italy regularly comes to our Hacks,…. it is always a very vivid range of hackers and each of them contributes their own unique energy and drive. So, it’s all just even more lively.
"Once a hacker always a hacker"
How many Hackathons have been successfully performed so far?
Ouch… hard to say. Only this year 3 live, 6 virtual and 4 internal – only for the client’s employees. Among the virtual Hackathons, this year was also the largest in the world – #EuvsVirus, where we were among the co-organizers, and now we are leading this community of more than 20,000 hackers. Definitely these are events where our team also enjoys the most, so it is not surprising that there is a huge number of organized events.
What is the broader, longer-term effect of Hackathons on culture in the company, youth, society?
Companies in Hackathon actually see “in action” that it is possible to work in a different, more open way, which includes a huge amount of cooperation, constructive communication and flexibility. Hackathon is usually the first step in a more radical change in the way we work, the way we lead teams. They are certainly the best example of innovation, open cooperation, acceptance of every given situation, quick adaptation, respectful communication and argumentation… where everything depends on people. If the culture of Hackathons could be introduced into every company, every environment, and the wider society, believe me, everyone would have a better view of the future.
Previously, Hackathon were held “live” and are currently held ONLINE. Would you say it’s different now? Did you encounter any challenges and how did you solve them?
That’s right. Fortunately, we started online last year, so this year didn’t catch us unprepared. It is certainly different, as the common networking and the energy itself, which all participants bring into the space, cannot be replicated to such an extent in the digital world. It is possible, however, to some extent and competitors also enjoy the digital experience. Above all, they like that they don’t need to travel anywhere and that they can go on a well-deserved rest immediately after completion, instead of on the long journey home.
However, the virtual Hackathon also has a great advantage, namely mentoring and guiding teams. This can be faster, more concrete and efficient, so that teams can be helped much more if they want to. The biggest challenge of virtual Hackathons, however, was definitely how to convince people that it will be just as fun and interesting as live. Well, sometimes we succeed more, sometimes less. We are constantly learning new and new virtual skills and fun tricks. Every next one is getting better. Always, always, our goal is that in the end the competitors are satisfied and eager for new ones, we do our best for that.
If you only have 5 words to describe the experience at Hackathon. What would those words be?
Connectivity, collaboration, adrenaline, innovation, fun. Desire for more.