What the heck is a Hackathon?

By AdamDales


What would be a perfect way to fire up the creativity in us techies?

I would say, liberate us from our daily routine of following specs and meeting deadlines, and just let us run wild with our geek instincts. Let us go ahead and build something that we always dreamed of doing in our spare time. 

My dream came true when recently we organized our first ever Hackathon. A day and a half of “hacking away” freedom, when we gathered in small teams, to code some of the most innovative ideas that we ever proposed! From the honk of the bike horn that started us off at 9AM the first morning, till 27 hours later when the horn sounded again to conclude the work, the level of adrenaline flowing among us was incredible. Excited and a bit anxious, we arrived early in the morning to take up positions behind our laptops and workstations. We stayed well into the wee hours, to make sure we were going to get a working version of our projects ready on time.

Each team participating in the Hackathon had to accomplish the following:

  • A working project – ‘great ideas in theory’ wouldn’t cut the mustard
  • Should be relevant to our technologies
  • Have business potential for our company

HackathonSiemensShowingEarly.jpgThe rules were simple but as you can imagine, extremely challenging, especially when we have just have day and half!Armed with our most precious tool for success, the ‘Yes we can!’ attitude, and the belief in teamwork, we all got started. For many of us, the first day extended into the late hours, and more than a few returned early the following morning to get enough time to finish up before the midday deadline. The organizers even arranged a refreshing surprise – two trained masseurs roamed the space offering brief shoulder/upper arm massages. Believe me, it certainly helped to calm the nerves.

Then, time’s up! We got up, rubbed our eyes and stretched, and the organizers reminded us that there was an hour for lunch before judging would begin. The judging panel included our CEO, senior executives and an expert from academia.

All in all, fourteen teams participated in the Hackathon – each one got seven minutes to present their project, and explain its innovativeness and value, as if they were at a pitch for VC.

Below is a list of noteworthy projects:

  • A gamification idea, that can help users learn one of our Robotics applications interactively by going through a series of tutorials that increase in difficulty. A concept adapted from the video game industry.
  • A very innovative hands-free work instruction system. Shop floor workers use special glasses which display the tasks graphically and textually in front of their eyes. The glasses’ built-in camera captures the progress of the task performed by the worker, and the system intelligently recognizes that a phase has been completed. It then displays the next work instruction. Wow!
  • Display instructional video and help documentation in parallel windows – one shows a video clip of how to operate a software command while the other scrolls the related documentation synchronously with the movie. This is a great innovation to improve the help documentation of our software. There is a drop down menu to change the language of the text and video narration.

The excitement of the Hackathon put a renewed sparkle in the eyes of the participants, and revealed that what had seemed impossible or at least impractical turned out to be a great success with endless possibilities. The results topped everyone’s expectations and impressed management, organizational leaders and most importantly, us, the participants!

In future articles, I hope to describe some of the innovations presented in our Hackathon events in more details with video demos. So stay tuned!


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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at