Encourage Hacking - A Modern Approach to Staff Development!

Garry Lee | Chief Executive Officer

Before I get into the detail of why I’m a big fan of things like the Hackathon and the benefits they can bring a business, let me just say from the outset – RedEye won the Best in Show at the 2015 #HackManchester! It was a fantastic achievement from the team and made me as proud as any marketing award we’ve ever won. We’ve never entered something like this before and to win the whole thing first time out shows for me that RedEye is a leading technology business who can compete with the best out there, regardless of sector or size. The RedEye team beat 75 other teams with a combination of collaboration, innovation, product smarts, clever coding, Lego and fun! Actually, I think that nicely sums up our business too!

Watch our Amazing Finished Product

Hack-a-what?

For those that don’t know, let me quickly explain what a Hackathon consists of. It’s an event in which teams collaborate on projects producing software (and sometimes hardware) to briefs given to them at the start of the competition. Traditionally these take place over a 24 hour period, and our winning team did indeed stay awake for the whole competition. The aim is to produce something, from a prototype to a working product that showcases skills, innovation and in some cases, a business idea. The most famous hack project of all time is probably from TechCrunch Disrupt 2010, where a project developed what eventually became GroupMe, a mobile messaging app which was ultimately bought by Skype for $80M! It’s fair to say the focus on HackManchester is about fun and less practical hacks, as highlighted by the category in which one RedEye team was entered, ‘The Most Ridiculous Use of SMS’!

That said, the skills involved were very serious indeed, as was the amount of time and effort expended!

But what does the business get out of this?

This is all very interesting, but I imagine you are not reading this blog simply to hear about an overnight event that produced the best use of Lego with nods to ‘Back to the Future’ (just watch the video!). As the head of a company that prides itself on its fantastic technology division and is always keen to get fresh talent to join us, I support these events because there are very clear and obvious benefits for the employees involved, and therefore for the business too.

Staff that are developing are happy staff…

I cannot emphasise enough the positive benefits an event like this has on personal development. You are surrounded by likeminded people with whom you can share ideas, network and build long-term industry connections. You have to challenge yourself to think fast and smart. You are forced to sometimes break the accepted rules on working, but also to rigidly follow steps and processes if you want to succeed. In many ways you are taking something that would spread over maybe a couple of weeks in an office and doing it all in 24 hours. If you can succeed under those pressures, think about the positive energy you can take into a traditional working development environment.

I know both the RedEye teams were reminded of the importance of communication and close dialogue. With such a short time frame in which to complete the project, you cannot afford to go off in the wrong direction, it’s critical you are working as a team and no one person is going off at a tangent. So you learn that velocity is not just about speed, but direction as well. Unless you are all going in the right direction, speed just leads to mess!

This kind of event is also an opportunity to bring together people that would not ordinarily work together. Our teams were made up not just of developers, but product owners, designers and solution engineers as well. It included people from different offices that had never even met before. It showed people that innovation and genuine change can happen when you mix different people from different areas and disciplines together.

Fig.1 – Although being proven hacking geniuses, we struggled with the ‘tallest to shortest’ photo test!

So that’s who RedEye are…

Let me share one final story from the event that perfectly sums up why this sort of event is critical for technology businesses like RedEye. More than once during the event people came up to chat, play with some Lego and to compliment us on the cool team name on our t-shirts. The thing is, the team name wasn’t on our t-shirts, the company name was! It really highlights that despite us being well known in many digital marketing areas like email, CRO, marketing automation etc. from a technology perspective we are not as well-known as we should be. This despite employing over 150 people, including over 80 in the North West region where the event was held. So this kind of event is critical to show the technology community that we exist and that we have incredibly good people – so next time you see an ad for a position or are contacted by one of our in-house recruiters, you know we are a business worth considering.

Now it’s early days, the Hack is only a few weeks old, but I’m optimistic that this event and our success at it will raise our profile and help us to bring together more smart and motivated people to develop new and leading edge solutions solving the ever-evolving problems in the digital marketing world.

Sounds good, but we’re not a ‘hackathon’ kind of business…

I talk about this event because it’s the most recent example of an initiative we are trying to encourage at RedEye – get staff out of the RedEye bubble and interact more with the digital and technology communities. A Hackathon might not be right for every business, but there are so many different options available, here are just a few examples:

  • There are great industry / technology / skills specific conferences all over the country, it takes 5 minutes online to find ones right for you

  • Professional bodies often organise local networking and knowledge share events

  • Try encouraging people to go meetups, which are great local meetings for people in different industries

  • Find local or national digital communities like Econsultancy or Manchester Digital that organise lots of events - Manchester Digital are actually behind HackManchester!

  • Connect with local universities to see if you can present at events and interact with bright young minds

The key thing is to not be afraid of people spreading their professional wings, the more it helps their personal development, the better for your business.

Don’t make these things a flash in the pan, build them into a continuous and ongoing staff growth and development plan. We’re already planning our own internal Hackathon. We’re putting together a 24 hour weekend event where we get together teams from across the business to work on projects that are based on the future technology direction of the company.

If you’d like to join our valued team of RedEye hackers, visit us here to see what roles are currently available.

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