Posted on 15 Feb 2018

From teams looking to take the pain out of peer feedback, to those looking to automate manual processes on a global scale, creative collaborations drove ideas and experiments at PageUp’s latest hackathon.

With agility and innovation crucial to remaining relevant in the tech world, hackathons can mean the difference between being a digital disruptor or an industry incumbent.

Celebrating the ingenuity it takes to ‘hack’ a system, the TuneUp hackathon leveraged the best of PageUp employees’ talents to discover new business ideas.

The four-day internal event saw employees solve existing pain points and identify innovation opportunities within our organization. Faced with a ticking clock, teams were in a marathon of iteration and validation. Fuelled by a desire to succeed, a passion for problem-solving, and more than a few energy drinks, they worked to create minimum viable products to showcase to the judges.

 

A man with a microphone stands in front of a Hackathon stall which has some small signs with images of personas on them. A woman stands to the right of the stall holding up an ipad. On the iPad is a webcam window with a remote worker who's in the hackathon team.

What’s a hackathon?

For the uninitiated, hackathons can seem a world away from the confines of an office: teams are huddled in groups, whiteboards are feverishly filled then just as soon erased, and the conversations a mixture of debate and excited collaboration reach a fever pitch. In this pressure-cooker environment, people learn new skills, test out new ideas, and collaborate with diverse teams to solve real-world problems.

A refreshing win

This year, the winning concept came from the nostalgically named reFresh Prince of Bel-Air team, who impressed judges with their forward-thinking automation of the UAT refresh process. Traditionally a manual operation, automating this time-consuming process was an idea that had been “floating around for months, if not years,” according to Giles Pollock, a systems infrastructure and network specialist who worked on the project.

Pollock says this automation was “an excellent opportunity to improve operational turnaround” and will now “allow the process to scale globally” with UAT refresh requests able to be processed on-demand from anywhere in the world.

From learning a new technology to dealing with an unfamiliar testing environment, developing tech solutions under tight time constraints can also have its challenges. Yet despite these hurdles, Pollock says witnessing the journey from initial idea to final product was hugely rewarding.

“The biggest surprise for us was how well everything actually worked when put together: to move from a multi-step manual process to a single button push to run the entire process was rather thrilling!” he says.

Breaking from usual hackathon convention, the winning concept wasn’t delivered to judges via pitch, but rather through a Tech Fair which showcased each team’s solution in a market-style stall.

“There was a great buzz in the air, and it’s something we will definitely continue,” TuneUp facilitator and participant Alexis Stuart says.

Stuart’s team Human Friendly Feedback developed a feedback software that overcomes a problem many face in their working lives: the discomfort of delivering and receiving feedback from peers.

While the judges’ vote went to another team on the day, Stuart says TuneUp still provided a valuable lesson on the importance of customer validation.

We learnt to be strict on ourselves to not get into solution mode, we really focused on understanding the real problem,” she says. “This was a great learning, and I think as a result we got some great insights – without these amazing insights we could have easily considered a solution which did not solve the problem at hand.”

 

A man with a microphone stands in front of a Hackathon stall which has some small signs with images of personas on them. A woman stands to the right of the stall holding up an ipad. On the iPad is a webcam window with a remote worker who's in the hackathon team.

A Culture of collaboration

The time pressures of a hackathon mean failing fast is fine and even encouraged. At TuneUp, this low-stakes environment meant teams could celebrate their wins and losses together: creating a valuable sense of camaraderie and enhancing company culture along the way.

“I believe hackathons help make PageUp what it is, both as a great place to work and as an industry innovator,” Pollock says. “It gives staff from all parts of the business the opportunity to take an idea they may have had, whether it be through client interactions… or even just a sudden shower thought, and turn it into a proposal to the rest of the business.”

For Stuart, seeing people from different parts of PageUp working towards a shared goal in an environment of mutual respect was what facilitating TuneUp was all about.

“The objective of TuneUp is to encourage innovative ideas and thinking, collaboration with other employees and teams, learning new ways of working, and having fun in a relaxed, supportive environment,” she says.

From learning the value of customer validation to exploring the practical applications of new technology, TuneUp proved that sometimes, the best ideas happen when people are given a break from day-to-day tasks. By working with new teams to embrace collaborative, creative problem-solving, employees learnt that hackathon success means more than just having the winning concept: the true rewards were the connections, memories and industry insights gained along the way.