Once You Hack You Never Go Back

by Sian Cargan

Posted March 28 4 min read

Hackathons are a fantastic way to capture and unleash all of those magical innovative ideas you know are bubbling under the surface of your organisation. Whilst these ideas already exist, a Hackathon creates the space and the time required to actually ‘do something’ with all of that great stuff. Whether the event is 24 hours, our an entire week, the aim is to harness the talent, passion and creativity of your people for that fixed period, and hopefully come away with some pretty cool finished projects, or proof of concepts.

Our Hackathon journey started in May 2015, with just 40 or so guys in a room in our HQ in Hungerford. The heavens were shining down on us that day, as the sun streamed through the windows and this, plus a BBQ, copious amounts of coffee and Red Bull kept spirits high over 24 hours. This was our proof of concept, and one that would pave the way for future global events. We captured the entire thing on film (below) and, when we shared this with the rest of the business the response was unbelievable. 

Gaining momentum

Now we had piqued the interest of our people all over the world, the challenge was set – how do you simultaneously host a Hackathon in multiple countries across multiple time-zones? Through great communication, teamwork, and dedication that’s how! We assigned a Local Lead in each country and connected in regular meetings to plan and organise what would be our first truly global event. Again video played an important role for us, it was a way to ensure that we captured the spirit of our Hackathon and shared this with the rest of our business, and the world – so this time we took ‘Hackathon HQ’ and our camera crew to Italy in recognition of the fact they had put forward the most ideas. 

Over 24 hours, we connected 260 of our people across 12 countries through our social wall – visible to anyone, anywhere. Of course the purpose of the event, like any Hackathon, was innovation. But it was so much more than that. For the first time since becoming CDK Global in 2014, we really were working together as one company across teams, functions…and across oceans!

Aiming higher

In May 2016 we held our third event, the second time we had taken this initiative global. And now we knew how the mechanics worked, it was about refining it. This time we put more focus on our communications and built a campaign to get people excited and engaged months before the Hackathon took place. We thought more about to ensure that the incredible project outputs could be launched, finished or go into production post-event. And now ‘being in the video’ was additional recognition for our reigning Champions, so ‘Hackathon HQ’ and our Sponsor Roger Vidal travelled to Denmark. 

As the sun went down around the world – which we saw posted on our social wall – the fun really began. Once again, this was not just an opportunity to ‘hack’ some of our brightest ideas, it was an opportunity for us to have FUN. At midnight (Danish time) we came together on a video call and were treated to singing and dancing from teams in India, Italy, Mexico, Spain….and in Denmark the conga made a comeback, as did Abba’s ‘Tragedy’. To an outsider this may sound ridiculous, but for those taking part it was a riot and is what kept teams hacking all the way through the night – yes some really did stay up for the full 24 hours.

Embracing our culture

We started our Hackathon journey to make more room for innovation. That has been one of the results – which you can read more about in subsequent blogs – and we plan to continue them. Of course there is much more we can do, and this forms part of our thinking about the future. But we’re also thinking of more ways to bring our people together as ‘one CDK’ and bring out the personality of our business. 

The culture here is unique, like nothing I’ve experienced before, and I’ve been proud to speak about it at a number of external events recently. As I shared our story and showed some of our films and saw smiles creep onto the faces of the audience, I knew we were onto something pretty special and am excited for what’s to come. 

1 comments on “Once You Hack You Never Go Back”

Liz Daly 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Incredible, energy, collaboration and execution, Thank you for sharing Sian! Keep us updated on future events.

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