A brief history of Selligent’s annual engineering all-nighter marathon

While returning from lunch one day, a few years ago, I was walking up the office stairs, right behind our then-VP of Engineering. At that point in time, I had already had some conversations with peers, musing on the unharnessed potential of our engineering department. This was at a time when we were forced to keep polishing up the rough edges of our flagship product, at the expense of adding features; or, as sales would call it: adding business value. In a desperate rush of escapism, right before we reached the office door, I pitched to our VP: "What if we would organize a Hackathon?"

For those who don’t know, a hackathon is a marathon-like session where teams join together for 24 hours, working together on various projects to spark new ideas that might solve a particular problem, create, or improve products or processes. At the end of the 24 hours, each team presents or pitches its fleshed-out idea as a finished product. It’s an opportunity for teams to research, learn, and experiment with ideas that might be outside their normal line of work. 

I was fully aware of the stakes here: a hackathon can sound like unabashed programming fun at the expense of "the company." During those 24 hours, the company will not get any other value out of the department and all the employees involved, let alone any perspective on a tangible outcome. Surprisingly enough, only a slight hesitation preceded a firm: "Sure, sounds good."

And so it happened. A couple of engineers teamed up to organize Selligent's first-ever hackathon on February 22, 2018. It had all the classic ingredients: LED-lit, focused faces against the backdrop of cryptic whiteboard drawings, pulling an all-nighter on a mix of pizza and energy drinks. And while we had to chew on a few practical learnings too, a clear precedent was set.

 

But to circle back to the stakes: what would make a hackathon so compelling for a company that it would agree to the loss of billable hours? Truly understanding this requires one to submerge oneself in the event and witness that determination to awe; to see professionals dust off the mundanity from their passion. That sheer enthusiasm would fuel not only the event, but also instigate the fire of new ideas.

As Johanna Rothmann would state, succeeding as a company is directly tied to the success of your employees, and traces back to supporting personal values. And this is exactly what happens here, in the case of the hackathon: Selligent has nothing short of embraced this initiative, allowing its employees to explore their personal skillsets in a safe and encouraging setting, while supporting the ongoing drive for innovation and programming creativity.

Some of last year’s creative projects included a solution to the challenges marketers face with emails opened in “dark mode,” for a better viewer experience; a mobile and web app to create audiences and actionable segments in real-time; and the grand prize winner, a platform game, fully immersed in the theme of marketing automation, that can be used for recreational or promotional purposes. It’s always exciting to consider how some of these innovations might be integrated into Selligent Marketing Cloud in the future.

So it should come as no surprise that for the fourth year in a row, we are proud to present the annual Selligent Hackathon – this time 100% remote, adding to the challenge! Get ready for the bonds and the buzz on March 25, 2021! And watch this space for news about the outcome of this year’s event.

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