6 min read
Petrus Holm, CEO of Junction Hackathon
Petrus Holm of Junction Hackathon: Create Something That Anyone Can Be Part Of
Being part of a relatively young Conversational AI space, we know how important it is to find the right talent and work with like-minded people. That’s why communities and networking are so important for emerging industries. We sat down with Petrus Holm, CEO of Junction — an international volunteer-led community effort headquartered in Finland — and discussed hackathons, perks, and quirks of a career in tech, community architecture, and the importance of play. Here’s an edited version of the interview.
By the way, Junction has just announced its big 2021 hackathon. If you’re a developer willing to test yourself, go check their challenges and sign up.
Beginnings of Junction Hackathon journey
Before the first Junction event was organized one of the founders spent some time in Silicon Valley: he had seen the tech community there and hackathons as the key part of it. When he started studying at Aalto University in Finland, there was nothing similar there. So, he brought up the idea “why don’t we host a hackathon here in Finland” because no one else had done it before. That’s how it got started. It wasn’t a very original idea… but somehow they found a way to do it so that it’s not completely the same as [in the US]. I think it’s essential to not just copy others but discuss and learn about why someone chooses to do things the way they do.
Building and managing a vast community
The most essential part is to create an atmosphere that anyone can be part of. When we started the Junction program globally, the strategy was to meet people in our events and ask them if they would like to do this in their own countries and surprisingly many people agreed. I think the hardest part here is to be on track with what’s going on but at the same time give people the freedom to create in their own way and not micromanage it. Finding the right balance is tricky.
On engaging and motivating volunteers
When volunteers first join, the motivation behind it is usually quite simple: they think it’s going to be fun, their friends are already volunteering, and they get to go places. But when you have people for many years volunteering in difficult tasks then it’s all about the core of Junction — why we do it, what’s in it for them. What we try to achieve is that anyone volunteering can do exactly what they want. We don’t push them, but try to come up with a task that fits their interests.
On the hackathon phenomenon and big ideas coming to life
I think that people taking part in hackathons usually do very similar stuff in their everyday work. But at hackathons, they can really focus on what they are 100% interested in and ditch all the documentation, management, communication and use their skills to create something in such a short time. I’ve seen some big ideas coming to real products in real companies and I have to say it’s not very often. But in every project, there are small innovations. Big ideas usually require having something after the hackathon and that’s why we also try to engage teams and partner companies to take the project forward after the event.
Managing expectations of hackathon partners
It’s very important from the first meeting with partner companies to create a realistic image of what’s going to happen at the event. Usually, they tend to idealize partnership, but our job here is to keep things real — one can’t achieve everything within one weekend. And if they want to get from ideas to innovation and from possible leads to actual recruits, they need more than a weekend for that.
A very good example here is a Finnish company called Suunto that makes watches and sensors. A few years ago they were our hackathon partners: they had a small chip that measured different data and they basically said: “OK, we have this hardware here for the consumer market, so what are some good examples of how to use it.” Teams came up with dozens of different ideas — how to use this sort of sensor. I’m pretty sure the engineers who made this would have taken a lot more than a weekend.
On benefits of hackathons for different professionals
I think attending a hackathon is a good experience for developers or other specialists of any level, but in my experience, best for those who are a little beyond the beginner level. So that they are capable of building something on their own but, not too senior as they still have a lot to learn. At hackathons, they can learn about team dynamics and making complete products — something they don’t really teach at schools.
As for senior professionals, they come for two reasons: the first is to test themselves and compete, the second is to have fun because for them it’s something different from what they do day-to-day. The more experienced you get the less time to play you have in your everyday work.
Hackathons as a career-building tool and recruiting method
There are many things participants can do to get the best out of [hackathons]. The first one is being very active during the event, meeting with other participants and partner companies, creating networks there, and learning about possibilities. They might get a call in six months because there is a vacancy open. The second one is adding hackathon experience to your LinkedIn profile or portfolio. It may seem very trivial for you but it’s similar to anything extracurricular you’ve done and can make you stand out from people with similar backgrounds.
For companies that have a hard time finding the right talent, a hackathon challenge can be a powerful recruiting tool. First of all, if you create a challenge and get people interested, they are probably interested in working for your company as well and you already have a pool of candidates there. During the event, you can also evaluate the teams and the team members and later meet them to see if they’re interested in your industry and business.
So, go ahead — there might be a challenge for just for you! The Junction team also shared a secret code with us that helps in the application process for Junction 2021: JAI2021.