The Development of Ungerboeck's First Hack-A-Thon
We began the year here at Ungerboeck with several new impressive developments and projects. And in light of the exciting advancements, we decided to push it a little further. We hosted the first annual hack-a-thon in January and now that the dust (and rivalries) have subsided, we’d like to share the process and outcome of a truly beneficial endeavor.
Our CTO Manish Chandek previously spoke to the benefits of hosting an internal hack-a-thon (refresh your memory here), and with the passing of some time, we’ve found the benefits resonate much deeper than we originally thought.
The planning process for the hack-a-thon wasn’t something taken lightly. It is an event that takes a bit of nurturing to really establish the excitement and engagement. The staff is the most essential part of your business and they have more to offer than what management requests them to do. The wealth of knowledge and understanding of the business is embedded in their daily tasks. They understand the business but pushing them to think outside the normal routine and focus their efforts on a project all their own is enlightening. Allowing them the opportunity to expand on ideas or concepts is taking an underutilized resource and adding business value, appreciation, and company-wide collaboration.
The company culture at Ungerboeck Software is something we pride ourselves on. And with the fluctuating trends of workplace standards, we are always looking to improve and continue our legacy of being considered one of the best places to work in St. Louis.
When Manish joined our team, it was his vision to push the limits of our developers, project managers, and IT staff. There was a desire to shake-up the culture and to make our team feel empowered because their ideas matter. The hack-a-thon was a perfect initiative to inject a sense of appreciation - but in an outlet that benefitted the entire company. The project wasn’t just limited to the IT and development departments, it was a push to make it a company-wide event that reinstated our growing company as a more tightly-knit family.
The execution of any given hack-a-thon can vary by industry or intentions and the rules presented will reflect on the aforementioned. However, there was only one rule that the “Unger Games” planning committee deemed necessary: create a solution that our customers would find valuable.
With this being a first-time event, there was an initial challenge of building up the value of the event to encourage participation. We allowed three months of hack-a-thon promotion, giving ample time for the generation of concepts and the forming of teams. The teams were self-forming, the projects were unchartered, the development time was on the work clock, and the prizes were substantial. With the amount of time (and excitement!) that was given prior to the hack-a-thon, 16 teams were created. The involvement rate was delightfully unexpected and solidified the planning committees’ efforts.
A surprising aspect of the teams was the level of cross-collaboration that happened organically. This was seen as a time to break the mold and enabled the teams to lose the sense of rigidity that is so very common in the workplace. Nearly every team had members of various departments, bringing differentiating perspectives and skill-sets to the table. The cross-collaboration is a benefit that resonates to this day. Our staff is more cognizant and has a better understanding of the various roles and the considerations needed. People who had hardly ever spoke were brought closer together (a weekend in an office usually does it) and the relationships are still seen throughout the halls today.
As I’ve mentioned before, Ungerboeck is a company that prides itself on our culture. The commitment to our team and goals can be seen on our USI Wall of Fame, a wall (ever-decreasing in space) where employees that have celebrated their 10 year anniversary with Ungerboeck, are highlighted. These are the people who know our clients and our goals, our passions and commitments, the hack-a-thon was a time that they could finally execute on the projects that they felt passionate about. There was an opportunity to put their ideas into production and to appreciate their understanding of customer needs. This was also a valuable time to show the newer additions to our team that their input matters and something conceptualized could be made a reality- a real product in the hands of our customers around the world.
Some of the projects that were presented were some that would have taken months, if not years, to be approved and relegated the labor and time for development. They were able to accomplish unthinkable amounts of programming in a matter of days. It built a solid foundation for these things to become products. The projects are already started and with the cross-collaboration of departments: sales and developers, project managers and client care consultants, the products are those that directly address current customer concerns or applications that the developers conceived where sales didn’t think it was possible.
A hack-a-thon isn’t something that is reserved for larger companies; you can implement it in your culture as well! It is a wonderful way to foster innovation and promote comradery. The developments conceived can inspire the entire outlook of your project timeline.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Here’s Manish telling you exactly what made the hack-a-thon so successful and why you should do one too: