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Let's introduce HR to 'hackathons'

People learn in different ways and I’m always interested to hear about alternative methods for the personal development of employees. One such example, popular in technology circles and which has been used to great success by DMGT, is a ‘hackathon’.

A hackathon, also known as a ‘hack day’, ‘hackfest’ or ‘codefest’, is an event that brings together technology professionals. Software and web specialists are invited to collaborate intensively on creating technical solutions. Participants work in teams to build applications or devise solutions for a specific challenge. Creativity, innovation and imagination are encouraged, despite tightly imposed time constraints.

It’s both a fantastic networking and learning opportunity as participants work together to gain new skills and knowledge and renew their vigour for web development. This allows them to transfer learning and ideas back into their day-to-day roles. What’s not to like about that?

We held our inaugural two-day hackathon last summer at a venue in East London’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’. Hosting the event outside the office allowed people to immerse themselves in the activity without the interruptions of the normal working environment.

Rigid procedures can stifle innovation, so day one was loosely structured to allow participants to form teams with people from outside their silos. In under an hour, teams had set up working environments and written their first lines of code.

All the applications, websites and integrations were developed using various technologies, platforms and cloud services. Many people were forced to think on their feet as they encountered technologies they had never used before.

Day two saw the teams frantically finishing off their presentations before delivering them to their peers and a panel of judges. All are now being evaluated by DMGT to ascertain the appetite to proceed with bringing them to fruition.

What better way to enable and capture entrepreneurial flair from our people? We will host our second such event in 2014, with teams from both our UK and US businesses.

Hackathons are a great way to allow people to express new ideas, network with colleagues and boost morale. Plus, they offer an alternative and potentially cheaper learning method. They are not an excuse for idle or unproductive time away from the office. But it’s important to manage expectations: a hackathon is not going to deliver a finished, polished product, and neither is it guaranteed to produce the next revenue-generating idea.

Right now, hackathons appear to be unique to technology professionals, but I believe there is nothing to suggest they can’t be used by other professions and functions. The same approach can be used to bring together business managers, strategists and marketers to brainstorm new ideas, business plans and strategies or to solve real business problems.

Imagine sales teams developing strategies to drive opportunities and revenue, or HR professionals working intensively to redesign an end-to-end process. Now, there’s a thought.

Catherine Rush is head of talent for technology at multi-channel media company dmg media. Part of DMGT, dmg media’s brands include the Daily Mail, MailOnline, The Mail on Sunday, Metro, Wowcher, Jobsite and Jobrapido