Starcount’s Hack Day

Hack Days, or ‘Hackathons’, are common events within the startup and technology worlds, but here at Starcount we’d never experienced one for ourselves. Data Scientist and Hack Day organiser, Sarah Blom, tells us why she felt Starcount staff would benefit from a Hack Day and what she learned from the experience.

What is a Hack Day?

A Hack Day is a sprint-like, cross-team event in which people of all disciplines come together to solve a common problem. It’s often built around computer programmers, with the goal of creating usable software, and can last anywhere from a few hours to several days.

Why did we hold a Hack Day?

I had been looking to organise a company event to build my own skillset away from my desk and wanted it to be something that aligned with Starcount’s values: Teamwork, Challenge, Results-Oriented, Intellectual Diversity and Collaboration. At the same time, I had become aware of discussions of a potential Starcount project. We knew we needed to spend some more time generating ideas and investigating its viability, before committing to working on it full-time.

Working in data science, I am always hearing stories of Hack Days and the competitive, hilarious and often slightly sleep-deprived fun that’s involved! It occurred to me that holding our own Hackathon would be the perfect opportunity to give some attention to developing ideas around this new project, while having a great time. With a Hack Day, we could build cross-functional relationships across the business, allow people to learn new skills and encourage employees to feel involved in the project and therefore to become its best promoters!

How did we do it?

One-day trial:

We decided that, as much as it might be amusing to see our colleagues’ reactions if we announced a 48-hour Hack Day, restricting it to a single working day would be most practical!

Cross-functional teams:

We divided the company into teams, ensuring that each team included members from across marketing, sales, HR, data science and engineering.

The brief:

While all teams were working towards the same challenge, each team was given a personalised brief based on the individual skillsets represented. The teams were given a set time frame to answer specific questions and had to present back to the rest of the group at the end of the day.

The rewards:

As well as a prize for the winning team, we made sure that the teams stayed motivated by providing plenty of snacks and masses of pizza!

Would we do it again?

We would absolutely organise another Hack Day (in fact, we’re planning to do so!). The day was a huge success; each team worked very well together and every Starcounter threw themselves into solving the challenge set for them.

What would we do differently next time?

As we crammed the Hackathon into the normal 9-5.30 working day, time was our main obstacle. We also realised that not everyone feels able to express their talents and ideas fully through a presentation – next time, we will include other measures of success, including building software from scratch. Watch this space!

Sarah Blom is a Data Scientist at Starcount.

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