Why Hackathons Play a Vital Role in a Startup’s Growth

This is the second year in which Druva’s contributed to a hackathon. Here’s why we think it’s important for startups like ourselves to get involved.

“It’s more about devising a smart and efficient way to solve a problem — one that would otherwise take a lot of effort to solve in a straightforward way.” — Milind Borate, Druva CTO

In the world of Information Technology, “hack” can mean two different things, depending on the context:

1. Gain unauthorized access to data in a system or computer

2. Program quickly and roughly

In this post, we are interested in the second interpretation.

However, the second definition is incomplete. Hacking is not just about programming quickly and roughly; it’s more about devising a smart and efficient way to solve a problem — one that would otherwise take a lot of effort to solve in a straightforward way.

The hacking culture is appreciated particularly in the startup community, in part because startups strive to achieve the maximum results with the available (and always limited) resources. Startups are also interested in quickly proving or disproving the feasibility of a technical approach to a problem.

A hack is also a quick proof of concept. Hacks often cut corners or ignore the non-core aspects of the implementation to ensure quick execution. (If the proof-of-concept demonstrates its worthiness, the logic goes, you can go back later to add the other items back in.) This way of working also fits nicely with startups’ model of focusing on the compelling features for early adopters and work on the commodity features later when the mass market is ready for it.

Since startups thrive on a quick and smart mode of working, it’s no wonder that Sequoia Capital, one of the leading venture capital investors, arranges its Annual Hackathon event to appreciate and encourage the hacker culture.

In a hackathon, a hacking marathon, small teams pick a problem of interest and hack it for 24 hours at a stretch. It’s not only about technology, per se. Such events also provide a platform for like-minded people to share experiences and to learn from each other’s mistakes. A team of veterans from various startups is also present to act as bouncing boards and technology guides to the participating teams. Druva organizes an internal hackathon each year in which we extend the concept beyond coding to system simulations and writing blogs.

The first Sequoia Hackathon took place in September 2013 in Banglore. I was lucky to witness the energy and enthusiasm of the 250 software developers in 70-plus teams. We had three tracks: Web, Infrastructure, and Mobile. Druva was the proud Sponsor of the Infrastructure track. In our view, participating helps build the ecosystem around startups; plus, it’s about giving back, helping budding entrepreneurs.

I got a lot out of it personally. First, participating gives us visibility into what the next generation startups are working on, and particularly in the tech space outside of Druva’s focus, such as Web, consumer technologies, and e-commerce. It’s sometimes good to pay attention to things we don’t usually think about in depth!

It also is energizing to be with the participating teams: I feel their enthusiasm and gain an understanding of their thinking process. Plus it gives us — or at least me — an opportunity to interact with some of the best brains. I happened to meet my college professor in the last hackathon, which let me bounce some ideas around distributed databases off him. I also interacted with Bill Coughran, Ex-VP of Engineering at Google, and I picked his brains on scaling the engineering organization.

This year, the Annual Sequoia Hackathon is scheduled for September 20 in Bangalore. It will be a bigger event with more developers and more tracks. This year, too, Druva sponsors the Infrastructure track. I’m looking forward to spending 24 hours with some of the brightest minds in the world of software development. See you there!