Hackathon 2013: The Anatomy of a Hack Team

Shutterstock’s third annual Hackathon is underway. Hundreds of employees have set aside their regular responsibilities for 24 hours (beginning at noon today), and formed dozens of teams to tackle original projects that will change the way the company does business. On Friday afternoon, they will present their final products to a panel of judges and compete in a number of categories, topped off by “Best Overall Hack.”

This year’s hackathon introduces a new rule that requires all teams to consist of at least three people drawn from across three different departments. It’s designed to give people broader insight into ideas and opportunities from others inside the organization. Although anyone can come up with an idea for a hack, it takes certain strengths, abilities, and focus to execute — getting the right mix of skills represented on a team is one of the most important factors in creating a winning hack.

Some employees have maximized their potential to win by participating on multiple teams, scrambling from one group gathering to the next. Tech-minded employees are of particular value for some, if there’s a back-end component to the hack. Their ingenuity has proven critical already in getting ideas off the ground. The most difficult obstacle at play is the clock, as everyone’s got very little time to create and share their big ideas.

For some engineers, it comes with the added bonus of a unique look into the site’s front-end challenges. Ivy Reyes says she was recruited to be on a team with coworkers from a variety of departments. Reyes brings to her team a certain pragmatic sense of what the final product will look like, while she highlights others’ passion to improve some aspects of the site. “For us, it works really well because you get the synergy and all of the ideas,” Reyes said.

Stefan Hayden, a front-end developer, chose to work on a project this year that has been talked about in the past, but ultimately not pursued. This time around, though, he says, he went for it because he was able to corral the right group to get behind it. Hayden asserts that while “any tech people can build something, they aren’t necessarily good at marketing it.” To really succeed at a Hackathon, you need both the skills to build something new and also to create a polished presentation. That’s how you achieve “the wow factor,” as Hayden puts it.

Others agree, and caution that if developers get too bogged down in code, they can miss some things. David Fenster believes that no matter what you’re making, you need to think about usability and target audience. How you convey it, too, is a central concern. “The demo is arguably more important that the project itself,” Fenster says.

Keep up with the Hackathon on Twitter and Instagram by following @Shutterstock and #Hack2013! We’ll be posting photos, videos, and more throughout the night.

Editor’s Note: The above article is this blog’s attempt at a hack itself, a speed-blogging experiment in interviewing, writing, editing, photographing, and posting within hours of the Hackathon’s start. Keep an eye out for another one tomorrow! Nice work, team!