How we ran the Oakbrook Innovate28 Hack Event
24th August 2021
Matt Whetton, Chief Technology Officer at Oakbrook, shares his expereince of our lateast hackathon - Innovate28
The event saw 6 teams of Oakbrooker’s tackling challenges set by colleagues from across the business, with a mixture of in-office and remote attendance. The buzz was palpable and the drive and engagement of the teams was incredible. We even had some hacking throughout the night, really embodying the Innovate28 spirit!
It was enjoyed by all and the kind of things that is important to our tech culture and colleague experience at Oakbrook, but it is a significant investment, consuming the entire tech community (and more) for 2 whole days. So its important to understand what makes that investment worth it.
Something I should be clear on is not to underestimate the level of planning and effort required! Not all events need to be the same (not all the events at Oakbrook will be the same) — as a guide here’s how we thought about Innovate28.
How we ran Innovate28
First and foremost this was the first hack event we’ve done in some time so we wanted to it be memorable and somewhat distinct from previous hacks. The first big choice on this front was making a full 2-day event and having the hack run overnight. In honesty we didn’t really expect (or encourage) many to be hacking all night, but we wanted it to be possible. A small detail like this felt important in creating an environment of freedom, innovation and possibility. We landed on the 28 hour window running from 10AM day 1 to 2PM day 2 to give time for set-up and demonstrations.
We really wanted to get as many Oakbrookers involved in the event but knew that not everyone could be an active participant throughout the 2 days, so we tackled this on 3 fronts — teams open to anyone, pitching the challenge and our panel of subject matter experts.
Making the teams open to anyone allowed us to pull together diverse teams across software engineering, QA, data engineering, data science and more. Opening the teams up like this made for some really interesting couplings of technology, helped people get to know one another and also ensured we got as many people involved as possible.
Having challenges felt important to anchor us in something real and material, that would resonate with colleagues across the business. With pitching the challenge we wanted to bring a start-up feel to the event and as such invited all colleagues to pitch their ideas and challenges to the teams involved in the event. The pitches were open to all and we got a fantastic response with well over 20 submitted from colleagues across all functions. Not all pitches could be selected though, so we allowed each of the hack teams to select their own challenge(s), encouraging the pitchers to make their pitches engaging and exciting.
When defining our panel of experts we invited (and encouraged) subject matter experts to volunteer some of their time to be available to the hack teams throughout the course of the event, so they could ask questions and seek advice. We again had great participation with representatives from across all functions on our panel.
Introducing a competitive element with prizes was important to give us all something to aim for. We wanted it to be healthy competition and as such kept the prizes modest and fun. We got trophies and included prizes for the hackers vote, a company-wide vote and most epic fail. Events like these are all about really letting loose and going for it, so celebrating those who tried and it didn’t quite work out was incredibly important.
Hybrid working is core to how we work everyday at Oakbrook, so ensuring that we maintained those rules throughout the event was vital. We therefore adopted a hybrid working approach to the 2-days with a mixture of some in-office teams, some remote teams and the occasional hybrid team.
Throughout the event we made sure everyone was well fed and watered, getting in snacks, pizza and all the usual engineer fuel! One of the great things about getting in something like pizza is that it creates a great moment in the day when everyone can break, socialise a little and take a step away from their screens.
Finally we set a deadline of 2PM on day 2 of the hack to finish and upload the video demonstrations of what each of the teams had built. Given that we’re a running business we knew that not everyone in the company could take 1 to 2 hours out to watch the demonstrations at the same time, but we definitely wanted everybody to have the opportunity to vote on their favourite. That’s how we landed on producing video demonstrations and giving all Oakbrookers a week to watch and vote on their favourites — we still had the hackers vote and epic fail award to give out on the day, but could ensure wider involvement with the video vote.
Whilst not an exhaustive list of everything that we had to plan and manage, it gives a flavour of how we approached it and the kind of sentiment we promoted through it.
How did it go?
Overall the first ever Innovate28 at Oakbrook was a huge success — the engagement from all our colleagues was incredible; the pitches put forward were amazing and I wished we could have tackled them all; the teams all showed up and produced some great results and everyone had a great time.
It’s fair to say not everything worked perfectly, but we have learned and will continue to do so. A distinct challenge is with making sure those working remotely feel as included and part of the event as those in the office — I think we did really well at this, but its something that’s going to take constant attention.
I’d also reiterate that not all events need to look the same, and they certainly don’t need to be quite as complicated and wide reaching as this was.
For me personally the buzz leading up to and during the event was incredible. Seeing what the community at Oakbrook can create in such a short space of time with such gusto and enthusiasm is an impressive thing.