Last weekend I attended my first Hackathon…in fairness…I attended the end. This is an important distinction as this particular Hackathon was a 24 hour event that went through the night. So I was told to cheat and come to the end of the event to see what was produced.
So what is a Hackathon? As far as I understand it, it’s time a company or group of coders spend together on creating new and innovative projects (or “stacks” as I found them called).
This event was sponsored by a big name in news. Historically a popular print-based subscription in many households, today they are battling the same issues that all print-based news outlets are facing: digital media and a changing consumer base. This hackathon was meant to provide some potential ideas to solving this issue. So 30-ish early twenty-somethings crammed into a raw space with nothing more than their laptops, coffee and mounds of sugar and carbs. They spent the next 24-hours as subject matter experts and designers of “from-scratch” solutions for a company that almost none of them worked for. There was no cash prize… oh and did I mention that it went through Saturday night, essentially rendering all of their weekends completely totaled?
Naturally, as a Behavior Analyst and someone interested in motivation for millennials (see: http://www.behaviorlikeaboss.com/blog/motivation-for-millennials ), this is an intriguing concept to me. Intriguing, but as I’ve learned over the past year or so, not surprising. This is one of many examples of heuristic (“An Algorithmic Task is one in which you follow a set of established instructions, down a single pathway to one conclusion. A Heuristic Task is the opposite…you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution.” Pink, 2009) tasks that my generation is engaging in more and more where money and other tangibles are not part of what motivates them. Companies can no longer hope to use recognition in many instances to motivate their employees of this new workforce generation.
So what is the solution? Why on earth did so many people give up their sleep, their weekend and parts of their sanity for 24 hours to do something that they seemingly weren’t going to benefit from? Daniel Pink’s research gives us some clues into this. He states that Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are some of the “new” motivators that we should be looking at. Perhaps Autonomy played a role in that the activity was already, in and of itself, reinforcing. That is one of the big things to remember about Millennials. It’s not so much about “just paying the bills” for us. We want to enjoy what we are doing. Now. Autonomy adds to that by saying “Okay. Now do it however you see fit”. In the case of this Hackathon, individuals could: participate; not participate; drop out; work in whatever group they wanted or work alone; leave for a bit if they wanted and ultimately, create whatever they pleased. For some, I got the sense that Mastery was playing a role. There were multiple groups that had just finished schooling or other programs and were there, it seemed to me, to practice and hone their skills. I’m not sure I can assume how many people were there for some other higher social purpose or goal but it is certainly possible given the details of this specific event.
So beyond my musings on motivation it was also just a super-cool experience to see what could be produced in such a short period of time, several of which I wanted to use immediately. As I continue my journey into understanding these fields further and the best ways to harness motivation, I suspect that I will attend more Hackathons and other such events. If you have an event like this that you think I would benefit from, please check out my contact page and shoot me an email! I’d love to hear from you!