Steps to plan a virtual Tech Hackathon

Screenshots of the tech hackathon

1. Seek help

Organising an event takes a lot of time and lots of planning! As there are many people who will be taking part, I would strongly recommend recruiting a working group to help with the decision making. Seeking volunteers from a diverse range of roles will help to democratise the planning process and allow for different voices to help shape the event.

2. Leave plenty of time

Hackathons take a lot of time to plan, especially for the first event, so I would recommend starting a few months before the event date. Depending on the format of the event, people also need sufficient time to register for teams, pick their ideas and to prep their solutions so we allowed 6 weeks for this planning.

3. Keep evolving

Not everything you’ve planned will work as expected, so seek feedback and be prepared to evolve the format for the next event. Feedback we received for our first event in a follow up survey and within a steering group retro confirmed the process for submitting ideas and registering interest was overly complicated, so we modified the approach for the second hackathon, which received more positive responses.

4. Over communicate

With onsite events you can speak to people and teams more easily in person and messaging can be stuck on walls as a permanent reminder, but with remote events this isn’t always possible, so effective communication is even more important. We used email, Slack, tribe wide huddles and squad stand ups to communicate important messages and updates. These messages must be also repeated several times to ensure as many people read and digest the details.

5. Be inclusive

Hackathons are often seen as events just for Software Engineers and whilst most of the implementation work will be done by Developers, this shouldn’t exclude others from taking part. Efforts need to be made to encourage non engineers to help with the organisation of the event itself, as well as with the individual teams and solutions. It can be harder with remote events for non participants to engage with teams as members are disparate and not as visible like when in the office, so we used Slack channels and open Zoom calls to help enable everyone to be involved in each and every team.

Author: Marion Duncan