Culture and Organization
January 19, 2023
min read

Successful Hackathons are not just for Coders

Here is how to deliver a successful hackathon pitch even though you may not be a master coder.

The Mercari Go Bold Day (GBD) Hackathon is a spotlight for everyone to share their ideas to improve our products, as well as the way we develop and test our products. Some people might shy away from participating in hackathons because they feel their contributions might fall short based on their limited coding skills. My experience of not only participating in, but winning last year's Mercari GBD proves differently.

For me, Go Bold Day is a day when my dreams come true. A full day where I can explore different roles, aside from my daily responsibilities at Mercari. Before I participated in this hackathon two years ago, I was nervous to fully express my ideas because of my lack of coding and designing skills. Here is a glance at how to deliver a successful hackathon pitch even though you may not be a master coder.

Coming up with an idea:

In this case my idea was focused on the user experience. This is an area where many people  whose coding expertise is not ideal may have more experience than they think. For me it was easy to put myself in the customer’s shoes when I am an actual customer. Even if you aren’t a direct customer you should think back to your experiences as a user of other products and services. What made it a pleasurable or memorable experience? What could have made it a better experience? 

When I was working for Oculus, I learned successful products can be created by focusing on what you want yourself as an end user. For me, as a frequent buyer of Mercari, I wanted a feature that could increase my confidence in the item I wanted to buy by having some visual showcases in addition to the pictures. That inspired me to create features that better showcase my items. Both of which were among the winning projects of GBD. 

Forming a dream team:

Forming a GBD project team during work from home is a bit more challenging than ever. In the office, I could promote my idea while taking a coffee break or over lunch with other people. With WFH, first I had to reach out to people proactively. Secondly, I had to message multiple people to introduce myself and explain the idea while also making sure my potential team member hadn’t already committed to another team. It’s like selling your idea and convincing people to believe in your idea while having fun doing it.

Building a successful team requires a pitch, self reflection, and persistence.

The details make the design:

The people of Mercari are great resources with great ideas. The mentality of all for one is ingrained in the culture here. Once you have a team with an idea, it’s time to brainstorm to figure out all the details. If your idea was a car, the actual project scope and plan the team comes up with is the engine. We shared many different views and identified many gaps which I had never originally thought of. That's the power of the team vs. working on a project on your own. As your team members are able to evolve, so can your idea. Don’t be afraid to let the team expand on your concept or help refocus it should any obstacles prevent you from achieving your initial plan.

Once you're done with the project plan, it’s time to execute and divide and conquer -  creating product spec, design, and coding, each done by different members.


A persuasive presentation:

It’s very valuable to make sure that your project and presentation meets the hackathon guidelines. The opening should be catchy and get right to the point within the 1st few seconds. Because of the limited time given, it’s better to identify the key values of the project and make sure they are highlighted during the presentation. See that everybody in the team gets to speak about their respective part of the project and the whole presentation meets with the time requirements while still giving everyone ample time to do their part. 

Lastly, while hackathons can be competitive it’s important to remember why they exist. Keep the atmosphere light and the experience enjoyable. Make sure your team members are heard and feel appreciated. Remember, a good idea is a good idea no matter where it comes from. That’s what hackathons are all about!

Zarema Asanbekova
Senior QA Engineer
Zarema Asanbekova is Senior QA Engineer at Mercari. Zarema has been with Mercari for 4 years. At her job she likes to prioritize users and solve their issues.