Based in Waltham, Massachusetts, GSN Digital is the team that develops web-based and mobile games for The Game Show Network. Once a quarter, all non-essential work at GSN Digital’s office screeches to a halt so employees can participate in a three-day hackathon. (What’s essential? Making sure the existing games are all up and running.) Vice president of engineering Caesar Naples explains, “It’s a chance to tap people’s creativity, and let them work on things that they might not be able to work on in their regular jobs. The overall guidelines are that you can do anything that ties back into the business, even vaguely. It’s a way for us to tap potentially untapped creativity.” Hackathons may lead to new products or features, but they’re also a recruiting and retention tool, Naples says.
Here, Naples shares the company’s goals and guidelines for running its quarterly hackathon. They typically begin at noon on a Wednesday, and run through noon on Friday. Teams use web-based software from Trello to organize themselves and their projects. Typically, there are about twenty projects per hackathon. “We bring in food, and we have had people sleep in the office when they get really into what they’re doing,” Naples says. At the end, the entire group votes on who should win the prizes.
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