The Lynx Five Golden Rules of Hackathons

Tim Miller

Director Pre-Sales Engineering & Smart Home Product Management, Lynx Technology

May 03, 2018

programmers-working-in-software-developing-PC8DZAEIn the early days of tech we had bakeoffs. Remember them? One tech or device pitted against another with the hopes of “winning” to secure bragging rights. The term was a play on the Pillsbury bakeoffs that were popular the middle to end of last century in the culinary world.

In the new millennium, with speed and agility the new norms, bakeoffs seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur and we now have advanced to hackathons. These events are often hosted by an independent third-party or industry association and bring together a level playing field where small teams congregate in one location for a few hours to develop an innovative application using a standard development kit. The goal is to increase awareness, realize the breadth of applications, show ease-of-use, and promote adoption.

There are a couple of different camps of thought of hackathons. The first is that they are a good place for exposure for startups but a waste of time for more established companies who “know” more and are already established the industry. Although we can see where this mindset might come from, we disagree and fall into the second camp.

Hackathons to Lynx are a way to level the playing field for all companies and ultimately promote innovation and collaboration. These events are not about competition in so much as about collaboration. It’s normal to become complacent: we all get to a point where we become blind and unable to see outside of a box – and the only way to break down the walls is to get perspective from others. Engaging in hackathons keeps the lines of innovation open and reminds us that others think differently, see differently and innovate differently. Therefore, if we are working to solve a problem, it’s great to know there is more than one solution.

To maximize our investment and participation in hackathons, Lynx has compiled a list of the five rules we follow.

The Lynx Five Golden Rules of Hackthons

Come Prepared

Learn about the tech you will be using. Bring your A game and don’t assume that learning on the fly is the best way to go. You’ll want to expend your energy on creativity and innovation, not ramp-up.

Mix it Up

Don’t be afraid to bring your best people but supplement teams with some junior people as well so you have a good mix of seasoned pros and newer talent. Understand that diversity and multi points of view are keys to innovation and will give you an edge. People don’t want another widget or application they have seen before repackaged: they want to see something that will wow them that they haven’t thought of before or have always needed but have been unable to create themselves.

Leave Your Ego at the Door

Everyone on the floor is competing because they want to innovate. Think of it as an altruistic event and not an “I’m better than you” event. Work together, collaborate, and be kind. It doesn’t matter if the competition is actually your industry nemesis, a three-person startup, or the largest company in your space: at the hackathon, you are all equals. And you’ll probably make new friends as a result of the competitive camaraderie.

Solve a Problem

It’s fun to create for the sake of creation, but ultimately the ideas that go somewhere solve a problem. Find a pain point and fix it, and you will be a hero. Articulate the problem and what is needed fix it.

Focus on the Benefits

startup-business-people-group-working-as-team-to-P6F7LDZOften in hackathons, there is a short presentation prior to consideration and the awards. As much as you’d like to geek out during this time, try to put on a marketing hat. Sure, it’s great to talk about the actual tech used and how something was developed, but tech itself doesn’t win awards. The last point, solving a problem, wins awards and results in great products. Articulate the problem that you’ve solved, and the industry benefits provided by solving the problem: for two audiences – the manufacturer or developer and the end user. For the OEM or developer, note cost savings, reduced time-to-market, size, bill of materials, extension of product portfolio and complementary products, innovation (ok, you can geek out a little here). For the end user, stick to the facts: how will this make their life easier or solve that challenge they face? Will it cut 30 minutes off the IT person’s day, so they can make it home for dinner and put their kids to bed? Will it reduce the number of truck rolls so that the telecom engineer doesn’t spend half their week in a truck? Will it bring the code errors down to nearly zero, so that the project will go from 3 months to 2 weeks? Will it make the smart home device installation so simple that my 75-year-old mother across the country will be able to plug in her devices and not call me every hour to ask questions about why something isn’t working the way it should? Focus on benefits.

Join a Hackathon!

In the end, hackathon prizes are nominal and a recognition of quick thinking and fast innovation. We appreciate the spontaneity and diversity of the teams, learning from others, and their ability to constantly challenge us – often outside our comfort zone. For companies thinking of participating in a hackathon, we highly encourage you to dip your toe in the water and think you’ll find the experience friendly and refreshing.

Screenshot 2018-05-03 14.31.00As a matter of fact, we highly recommend a hackathon (developers conference) coming up in Chicago on June 21st at the Open Connectivity Foundation’s meeting where participants will get an overview of OCF’s technology, IoTivity. Teams will get their hands on and practice using the code, see all the tools available for product development, and then compete with the other attendees for fun prizes and bragging rights. Attendance is free and open to both OCF Members and non-members. Registration and additional details are online here.

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