Why a hackathon is not a game

13 November 2014

Last month, AE organized its first hackathon. For two days, seven teams worked feverishly towards the realisation of their idea. At stake was a €2000 reward for the winning team. Despite the simplicity of this concept, a hackathon is not just a game. Moreover, it proved to be an efficient way to leverage innovation, creativity and knowledge sharing.

Thinking People Hackathon


The concept of a hackathon is simple: give participants the time and resources to collaborate intensively on a topic. Hackathons are often associated with software development and die-hard coding but have also been applied to a much broader spectrum of business topics such as healthcare. The goal however stays the same: fast-track an idea or (software) product.

At AE, we organized a themed hackathon to connect with one of the most important topics in our digital world: mobile. Every consultant could participate: developer, analyst, technical architect, project manager, … . In the end, 33 participants took on the challenge to create and present a prototype of their idea in 36 hours.

Take a leap of faith towards value creation

At the start of a hackathon, no-one knows what the exact result will be. The number of rules is limited and the participants are given maximum freedom to develop their idea. This implies that each participant can shape the hackathon according to their personal objective. That could be either experimenting with a new technique, tool or technology, finally working on a longtime personal project or ultimately prototyping the improvement that would have never seen the light of day due to the high delivery pressure.

Each participant will thus contribute in his or her own way. This immediately shows the strength of mixed teams at a hackathon.


Play hard, work hard

By bringing strong customer-oriented employees of different profiles together, equally strong customer-oriented projects emerge. All ideas that were pitched during the AE hackathon 2014 either contained strong improvements for the internal processes of AE or opened the door towards new ideas for our customers.

So no, a hackathon is not just a game but also a sandbox for innovation; open for the imagination of the participants, ready with the right tools and a large number of like-minded enthusiastic colleagues to share experiences with. This perfect playground facilitates the participants to think outside the box and to create simple but effective solutions. The final product however is not a sandcastle but a large number of new ideas and the first steps towards their implementation. After all, the value of an idea lies not only in its execution but as importantly in its capability to generate other and better ideas.

These first steps will pave the way for innovation as the created product is tangible, has a proven first level of feasibility and is supported bottom-up by a team of inspired and motivated employees.

Are you feeling those hackathon vibes? Get in touch for more information or relive the #aehackathon via our Google+ event page.

Valerie Taerwe

Written by Valerie Taerwe

While believing technology will change our world, Valerie is convinced that technology only succeeds when meeting business value and user adoption. During her consulting career, Valerie has helped organisations such as Securex, bpost, c-Quilibrium, and many others realising their digital ambitions. Since being awarded the Young ICT Lady of the Year award, she advocates for #STEM and #diversity. As a member of the AE leadership team and Hive Lead of AE Build, she's on a mission to help clients with #greatsoftware.

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