On the surface, encouraging software developers to connect a coffee pot to the Internet, or to create music by interpreting changing forex rates, might not seem like it makes good business sense. But it’s actually a fantastic way to foster creativity, facilitate learning, encourage collaboration, and promote new product innovation. Welcome to Hack Day at OANDA.
Such “hackathons” are events where teams of developers, designers, product managers and other employees who are interested collaborate to complete a project within a limited time. It’s common for nothing more than camaraderie to be the result of a hackathon, but sometimes great things can happen. At Facebook, the ubiquitous “Like” button was developed as a result of an internal hackathon, and our recent fxTradeNOW Chrome browser extension was also a graduate of one of our quarterly Hack Days.
We’ve found that hosting companywide 24-hour hackathons resonates throughout our organization and provides our team with the opportunity to scratch an itch, so to speak. Creativity flows to such a degree that the energy is contagious – even to the C-suite level, where our CEO K Duker compared it to being at a rock concert. There’s an element of gamification to our Hack Days, too. Beyond competing for the opportunity to receive a reward for the winning hack, there’s a certain respect from one’s peers and from the company for developing something new and interesting, and that alone is valuable.Our most recent Hack Day in October featured 32 pitches and 19 product demos, some of which we plan to polish and release as full-fledged products in the future.
Up until recently, OANDA has been one of Canada’s best-kept tech industry secrets. That said, being recognized as one of the top 10 non-Silicon Valley places to work has given us confidence to do more than host internal Hack Days. We’re keen to get our name out in Toronto and elsewhere, and our development teams are going to hit the road and start participating in community hackathons.
In early November, we sent a team of seven developers to join with 350 other hackers at an event called “Startup Weekend Toronto”. Sixty participants pitched their ideas to the crowd who then voted on the top 20. Those that were approved were given 54 hours to form a teamcreate a prototype, and ultimately presentit to a panel of judges for evaluation. OANDA’s developers joined four teams and we’re pleased to announce that they managed to secure second, third, and fourth place finishes.
The next event we plan to attend will be the inaugural Toronto edition of AngelHack 2012, which is scheduled for December 1st. AngelHack is held annually in 11 cities worldwide and participants have 24 hours to create a minimum viable product. We’re excited to be promoting our open API at this event and to participate on more winning teams.
Other future hackathons OANDA plans to attend includes Startup Weekend New York, HackTO, and Random Hacks of Kindness.
Hopefully, we’ll see you there!
Have you attended a hackathon before? Please share your thoughts in the box below.