Winning a Hackathon: Every Team Needs a (GOOD) Writer!
“A hackathon is a gathering where programmers collaboratively code in an extreme manner over a short period of time. While working on a particular project, the idea is for each developer to have the ability and freedom to work on whatever he/she wants.” - Techopedia
We recently had a company-wide hackathon at Wix. Hundreds of employees from around the world teamed up to create new and innovative products. But just like everything else, we did things our own way. At Wix hackathons, more than just programmers are encouraged to collaborate.
R&D Team Leader David Broder stressed this in a last minute email to the entire company saying, “all employees who work on developing products in any of Wix’s companies, in all positions, are welcome to join without additional approval. This includes Engineering, QA, BA, UX, Product, Design, Content, Writers and others.”
Here's a look at how the winning teams benefited from collaborating with writers... because that's what made all the difference, of course!
The Wix Hackathon
For 5 days (and nights), Wix employees teamed up to generate new ideas and develop them for production. Each team was required to start from scratch on Day 1 and present the judges with a working product by the end of the competition.
The judging criteria included:
The final results were stunning, especially given the short time frame. This may well be attributed to the fact that the winning teams included a diverse group of Wix employees with a range of skill sets including development, design and product management, but also marketing and product writing.
The unique perspective of a writer
Writers are natural storytellers, so it’s easy for us to conceptualize a story from start to finish. This is crucial to a team working under the pressure of a hackathon. Not only do you need to make a working product, but you also need to create a winning pitch for the judges.
If the product is heavily dependent on text, it makes it even more important to have a writer involved throughout the process. On top of that, it helps to clearly write out how the product will be implemented, as well as potential developments in the future.
Being able to explain the purpose and value of the product from the beginning can also help define an efficient work plan for the hackathon group. When you understand the idea from beginning to end, it’s easy to develop a basic product flow with text and design, and a marketing plan for both the hackathon judges and the eventual public release.
Once this foundation is set in place, each member of the team—from the developer to the designer—will have a stake in the final product and opportunities to add their expertise along the way.
A look at how my team (almost) won
My hackathon group knew early on the story we wanted to tell, but we allowed room to adjust. We only had one developer on the team, so the final result would be based on what he could actually make work.
In the end, we collaborated to develop a working product with a professional logo and a complete marketing campaign. We created a professionally-designed presentation, a how-to video, two email blasts and beautiful posters to hang around the Wix offices. And despite having only one (relatively inexperienced) developer, we won 2nd place in the Technology category.
Using a writer for text-heavy products
Several hackathon teams created brand new products that relied on clear, concise text. They needed a talented user experience (UX) writer to pull off a win. Rina Abadi, one of the top UX writers at Wix, made her writing services available to a number of teams and helped push two of them to the winner’s circle.
She told me that in comparison with the other groups she advised, the winning teams involved her from the beginning and asked for her input frequently throughout the competition. She didn’t even need to chip in for the presentation, because she had been part of the process—helping to develop a well-thought-out product with effective UX text.
Using a writer for a product without text
Some teams decided to create products that had little or no text at all. But even these winning teams reached out to a writer for help.
Netanya Bushewsky, a senior marketing writer and editor at Wix, was asked to make marketing materials for her team’s product.
Even though she wasn’t quite as involved as other group members in the product development, she used her unique skills to quickly understand the product, its intended audience and primary benefits. Through this understanding, she promptly wrote informative (and catchy) taglines to capture the concept. She then created a video for her team’s presentation, which helped take her team to first place.
What a writer can learn in return
In addition to contributing to the team, writers can also learn a great deal from participating in a hackathon. By working hands-on with developers, product managers and more, writers can gain a better understanding of how products are initially envisioned and developed.
This is especially true for a marketing writer such as myself, who worked to create a new product from scratch for the first time. Now I understand how to learn more about a product when I get a marketing task, as well as who to approach and which questions to ask.
If your company has a hackathon coming up, make sure writers are involved. And all you writers out there, make sure to take an active role on your team! (If your company doesn’t want to include non-developers, you can send them this blog post.)
Be on the lookout for new Wix products that were created during this hackathon, and subscribe to the Words Matter Blog to stay up to date.
Wix Marketing Writer - Corvid by Wix