Leveraging Internal Hackathons to Benchmark Junior Developers and Foster Collaboration
Many companies are looking to kickstart creativity in the workplace by asking their development teams to solve a business problem in a competitive environment under a certain time restriction. The solutions from the winning team(s) can often get pulled into real product work—and sometimes even result in new product launches. In short, this cross-functional event is called an internal hackathon. For hiring managers, an internal hackathon presents an opportunity for junior developers to prove their skills outside of the standard work setting, collaborate with a team, and exercise their creative problem-solving skills.
Before planning an internal hackathon, determine exactly what you want to get out of the experience. Are you assessing for areas of improvement? This would inform the type of training that the junior developers could benefit from. Or maybe you’re putting together a team for a new product launch? Below are five questions to consider when assessing junior programmers participating in the hackathon.
1. How do they work in a team?
Working collaboratively as part of a cross-functional team is key to the modern Agile development process. Keep an eye on junior participants and see how they interact, listen, and offer ideas in a group setting under pressure. Agile engineering teams tend to focus on productivity and effectiveness. Observing them will tell you if they are thinking about the User Story or minimum viable product—MVP is a version of the product that allows you to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
2. Can they manage their time?
Hackathons can last from one day to a few weeks. Regardless of duration, there is a palpable pressure to get things done quickly and smartly. Pay close attention to how junior developers plan their time. Did they decide on deadlines or devise some sort of timeline? Time management is crucial for productivity.
3. Do they know how to prioritize?
There should be rhyme or reason in how developers prioritize tasks. Are junior developers paying attention to timely action items without losing sight of the project objective? They should utilize some sort of task board for organization before jumping in. In its most basic form, a task board can be drawn on a whiteboard. Divide the board into three columns labeled "To Do,” "In Progress," and "Completed,” and mark the status of each task to track progress and identify roadblocks or holdups.
4. What’s the quality of their code?
When done right, hackathons can produce high quality code. Code quality is determined by maintainability, reusability, readability, and efficiency. Companies prioritize these attributes differently. Once you devise your definition of high quality code, implement a platform for immediate feedback or scoring. Some coding assessment platforms like Codility offer real time quantitative feedback, which allows candidates to test their own code and improve it in real-time. This feature enriches the learning process, which is especially valuable to the coding community.
*Public Report Feedback (app.Codility.com)
5. Where can they improve?
The competitive and innovative nature of a hackathon may help you uncover certain skills from Junior Developers. For example, someone you never guessed could have a knack for design. On the other hand, this might bring areas of improvement to light and show you where additional training is needed. Do you see any small-scale trends in behavior or skill? A team that’s extremely engaged might mean that they are interested in the project at hand and have the soft skills to effectively collaborate.
Keeping the momentum
Use these five questions to identify top performers and the training areas that need attention. You can do this all while solving a real business need and creating a more engaging environment for your team. Training junior developers using coding tools like Codility can be adopted to your learning and development program to uplevel your team based on how they performed at the hackathon. This will teach them new skills, measure progress, and manage feedback in real time.
Get a planning team together, share your assessment questions with leadership, then put those junior developers to the test. You might be surprised by the answers you find and the talent you uncover...we were! Learn more about our internal hackathon project and retrospective: