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Hackathons and Innovation at Ironclad

November 30, 2021 2 min read
Group of people sitting around a table in front of individual computers | Hackathons and Innovation at Ironclad

Ironclad’s first official company hackathon was in 2017, when the company was just 10 people. Since then, product innovations like Workflow Designer, company culture touchstones like the Ironclad Record Cafe, and internal tools like our “Cladiator Deploy Bot” have had their start as a hackathon project. But it’s not the individual projects that make hackathons worthwhile. It’s the exchange of ideas across the entire organization.

While we usually take a structured approach to things like product development, hackathons help us hold space to innovate in an unstructured way. Every year, we pause all but the most critical work for several days to allow the entire company, from engineering to support to design, ideate, collaborate, and hack together.

What makes hackathons worthwhile is the exchange of ideas across the entire organization. Without this exchange, innovation can end up out of touch with business needs (an idea deeply explored in Safi Bahcall’s book Loonshots). Even if no hackathon project has a direct connection to the bottom line, as long as individuals with different perspectives share ideas and engage deeply in trying something, it’s worthwhile.

Three critical tenets to Ironclad hackathons

With this perspective, there are three critical tenets to Ironclad hackathons:

Work with different people. Everyone is encouraged to work with people they don’t usually work with. People also sign up in advance, and most teams have an “open door” policy: anyone who wants to join just needs to ask!

No idea is a bad idea. Generally, we provide no direction about what to hack on (or how projects will be judged). This is intentional: we believe that innovation is often non-obvious, and that it’s best for the teams to decide how to apply themselves.

Sharing is just as important as doing. Finally, we emphasize presenting projects, and encourage people to share, regardless of the outcome. Most of the company joins for company hackathon presentations. It’s an exciting chance to spark the next big thing!

While the full-company hackathon isn’t until next summer, we had our inaugural GTM-focused hackathon two weeks ago, and our annual Eng/Product/Design hackathon is next week. I’ll be working with Adam Gillaspie and others on a cool project related to Clickwrap. I can’t wait!

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Cai GoGwilt is CTO and Co-Founder of Ironclad. Before founding Ironclad, he was a software engineer at Palantir Technologies. He holds a B.S. and M.Eng. in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.