About twice a year, Bazaarvoice hosts an internal hackathon, spearheaded by the engineering department and open to the entire company. We carve out three days from schedules and responsibilities to dedicate towards building functional prototypes of our own ideas. The last day, we show off our projects, starting with a science fair format where everyone can see the various demonstrations and “invest” in them with tickets. The top ten teams present to a cross-functional panel of judges.

At first glance, throwing a hackathon might seem too great of an expense. Pausing the daily tasks of many employees and providing them with food, drinks, swag, and prizes over the course of three days can be difficult to justify; that is, until you’ve participated in or thrown one yourself.

To see it through 

There’s a special kind of fulfillment and energy that comes from pouring yourself into a two-day project. Across our departments, a lot of our teams are often working on smaller pieces of larger deliverables. While we might complete tasks daily, it often takes weeks or months to finish an entire project.

Hackathon projects offer the opportunity to see ideas come to life. Seeing is believing, and for others in the company, hackathon demonstrations can make the difference between a someday-maybe idea to a yes-we-need-that-now idea. While these projects are rushed, can cut corners, and haven’t gone through our incredible quality assurance team, they are closer to production-ready than one might expect.

To make the rubber hit the road

We work hard to preserve innovation and forward-thinking in our culture and development. From APIs for network data and statistics to a vast ecosystem of display components to ease front-end development, we’ve already done the work to make our data and services accessible. When it comes time for our hackathon, we aren’t re-inventing wheels, we’re building incredible vehicles with the ones we already have.

We’ve made a surprising number of improvements to our consumer-generated content (CGC) display, submission, configuration, reporting, and even new product offerings as result of past hackathons. In last week’s hackathon, many projects focused on solving existing pain points for our client services team, as well as clients themselves. There were applications that combined statistics from our Network and application services to provide actionable guidance to improve implementation issues. Others made certain products, like Curations, even easier to configure and manage. A few projects took our Network and product recommendations capabilities to an entirely new level. We even had a team build a virtual universe of the Bazaarvoice Network, complete with a virtual reality headset to browse the 5,000+ retailer and brand “planets” and the syndication links between them.

Most simply, hackathons make us better at our jobs. It’s easier to practice working with the end goal in mind when you’re time-boxed to 48 hours. For many, it’s an opportunity to work in a different language or framework, use different services or APIs, and sharpen ourselves against different brilliant minds.

To connect

On the other side of innovation is empathy. Empathy for what would improve the experience and day-to-day activities for our clients, our fellow staff, and ourselves. And ultimately, empathy for the end consumer — to consider their time and attention along their shopping journey. Our hackathons afford us the opportunity to not only exemplify our own individual capabilities, but also our culture and company values.