Explore May 15, 2019

3 Types of Hackathons and How They Deliver Value

By Ty Swarts and Mauricio Figueroa, Capital One

Among tech-focused organizations, hackathons are a cultural mainstay. As companies across industries increase their digital efforts, they may not fully understand the value generated by these events. While hackathons can provide several excellent benefits, it’s important to approach them with a specific objective in mind and to understand the time and resources needed to conduct one. Simply put, a developer’s time is valuable, so you want these events to be successful. In order to achieve this, your objectives need to align with your desired outcomes.

The most common hackathons tend to fall into three categories:

1. Explore a New Technology (Usually part of a product marketing storm)

2. Annual Event (Cultural event)

3. Part of the Product Life Cycle (Product Development Acceleration)

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Each of these formats provides its own value, as well as limitations.


Explore a New Technology

This is one of the most common formats for a hackathon, as it is often used as part of the marketing campaign for a new solution. This type of hackathon can be an external or internal event, meaning the host may be the software provider or your internal organization. In either case, the goal here is learning and technology adoption. You’re hoping to demonstrate the value of a new platform to the end users, in this case, the developers.

Value Drivers

How to Measure Success

  • Developer adoption and NPS.


Annual Event

Several major technology organizations host annual hackathons, using them as major events that support the organization’s desired culture. This format offers a chance for team members to work together with other members of their organization that they may not normally interact with. These events can become display opportunities for developers who are hoping for an opportunity to flex skills, demonstrate potential, and expand personal networks, as well as allow organizations to reinforce their culture around innovation and technology.

Value Drivers

How to Measure Success

  • Participation metrics, improvement in candidate quality, and improvement in engagement scores.


Using a Hackathon in Product Development Lifecycle

A hackathon centered on product development is often the most impactful and the most challenging. The objective is to rapidly push a team through the ‘prototype’ phase of the design process. This requires quickly organizing an event with the right type of product, in the right phase of its development, with the right developers' schedule. Prior to the event, Product, Design, and Tech leads will have already defined the key pain points to be worked on.

Value Drivers

How to Measure Success

  • Quality of prototypes and reduction in implementation time.


At Capital One, we recently organized a hackathon for product development acceleration that yielded amazing results. Within our commercial bank, 50 individuals spent a week designing prototypes to solve key issues surrounding the replacement of a legacy platform. These prototypes have accelerated the replacement of the existing system and dramatically reduced time to release a minimal viable product.

Above: Capital One User Focused Design Session

Focus on Your Desired Outcome

Hackathons not only have the potential to produce prototypes that can drive significant business, and/or technical value, but they can also help generate ideas that could disrupt how an industry works. The key to creating productive hackathons is to create strategic objectives that are aligned with desired outcomes.

Best of luck leading your organization’s next hackathon!


Capital One Tech

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