Over this past year, Alkami has embraced the concept of being a TechFin – a technology company first and foremost, focused on building financial solutions. A big component of the TechFin concept and identity is that TechFins employ cutting-edge technology to deliver solutions that help financial institutions stay ahead of their competitors, and deliver best-in-class solutions to their end users.
To remain true to this innovation-first mindset and “walk the TechFin walk”, Alkami put in motion a TechFin Conference and Hackathon. Intentionally creating a dedicated time and space for creative problem solving feeds directly into the Alkami company value of “The Customer is Our North Star.” Empowering teams to delve into practical projects leads to further improvements in the digital banking experience for clients and their end users.
Alkamists (Alkami employees) from all across the country gathered onsite at the Alkami headquarters in October of 2023 in Plano, TX, for the first internal TechFin Conference and Hackathon. While the majority of the over 200 participants were members of the engineering organization, members from the product management, user experience (UX), solutions engineering, support, customer experience and marketing teams energetically participated as well.
It all started with the TechFin Conference: a full day of informative sessions, fireside chats and more. The format allowed the research and development (R&D) team members to connect with each other face-to-face, as well as hear from and interact with the senior technology leaders at Alkami.
Day two of the TechFin Conference featured a TechFin Hackathon, where the team tackled 26 unique projects with a common mission: Develop creative solutions and enhancements that quenched today’s “need for speed.” In total, 26 team projects were developed in just 24-hours, five projects were chosen winners, awarding 34 individuals with cash and bragging rights. The self-assembled teams were made up of team members who had a wide range of skill sets, personalities, and interests, which is celebrated at Alkami. Anyone at Alkami, regardless of department, role and seniority was welcome to join the event.
What is a Hackathon?
A hackathon (combination of hacker + marathon) is an organized event where small groups collaborate to engineer a project over a period of time, followed by “show and tell” style demos or presentations to showcase the work that has been completed.
While group size and event duration may vary from hackathon to hackathon, the Alkami TechFin Hackathon specified groups no larger than seven team members, and gave participants a total of 24-hours from kickoff to presentations.
Hackathons can often have guidelines or themes that help inform what type of projects the teams create. Typically hackathons are competitive in nature, and involve a panel of judges who collectively vote on the hackathon projects based on predetermined criteria and issue awards or prizes for the winning teams.
What is the purpose of a Hackathon?
Hackathons encourage participants to step outside their comfort zone to learn, build, fix, improve and innovate. Participants are encouraged to collaborate with teammates who they might not otherwise work with on a day-to-day basis. Hackathons are fun learning and collaborating opportunities that naturally bring about camaraderie as well as friendly competition. They are fantastic opportunities for participants to develop and hone their personal and professional skills, while building creative solutions with the potential to add value to internal stakeholders and clients.
These projects can be feature or process enhancements, bug fixes or even brand new features and processes. The theme of the TechFin Hackathon was “need for speed,” which meant that projects should ideally focus on areas including – but not limited to: accelerating time-to-action, streamlining operations, and enabling self-serve functionality. Many 2023 hackathon projects were centered around improving internal testing and deployment processes, including removing bottlenecks, providing transparency into dependencies and more – all to more efficiently serve clients.
Pitch Perfect Preparation
A month prior to the hackathon, Alkami hosted a virtual “pitch party” where teams could share their ideas for projects, or sit in and determine which hackathon project they wanted to join. Each project leader had one minute to share the objectives and goals of their concept, as well as what supporting roles and skill sets they were looking for to complete their team. Following the pitch party, the participants signed up for the hackathon team they wanted to join. This created a great opportunity for the TechFin conference attendees to get a taste of what to expect during the hackathon, and join the projects that were most interesting to them.
Ready, Set, Build!
After the internal kick-off meeting, the hackathon teams were off to the races. Among the Alkamists in attendance, many of whom were meeting fellow team members – either in-person or otherwise – for the very first time. Participants huddled in their respective groupings all around the office, feverishly diagramming workflows on whiteboards, sharing code samples, scanning software documentation and troubleshooting issues.
The hackathon period did not occur without its fair share of challenges, which with any 24-hour development project was to be expected. The teams all faced the pressure of how they were going to complete their project, or at the very least create a minimum viable product (MVP) that could be leveraged as a starting point for future development.
As the hours went on, many worked well into the night and beyond – the teams powered on with endurance (and lots of coffee) committing to Alkami’s company value: “seek the answer.” Little by little, the teams worked through these challenges and started experiencing more and more “aha!” moments, bringing them closer to being demo-ready.
Demos & Awards
A hackathon wouldn’t be complete without a little friendly competition. At stake? Cash awards and unlimited bragging rights. As day two of the event dawned, the teams for their turn to demo, excited to show off the work that their teams dedicated to over the last 24-hours. With two of Alkami’s clients (Mountain America Credit Union (MACU) and Broadview Federal Credit Union) on the panel of judges, the pressure was on.
With 26 projects to showcase, each team had just three minutes to present and demonstrate the functionality that they built, followed by two minutes for a Q&A from the judges. The teams proudly presented their projects, hoping that the live demonstrations would go smoothly in front of a room of hundreds of people.
There were five award categories:
- People’s Choice Award – Voted by Alkamists
- Theme Award – The project that best fit the theme, “need for speed”
- Innovation Award – The most innovative project idea, voted by the judges
- Special Jury Award – A project that goes “above and beyond,” voted by the judges
- Technical Excellence Award – Best use of technology in the project, selected by Deep Varma (Chief Technology Officer, Alkami)
“Each project was creative, intuitive, meticulously thought out, and solved real pain points aligned with the theme of “Need for Speed.” The TechFin Hackathon inspired everyone in the room to explore the possibilities of using the latest technologies to scale the platform, build features, and automate operations to drive speed.”
– Deep Varma, Chief Technology Officer, Alkami
After careful deliberation, the client judges announced the winners of each category, and invited the triumphant teams to the front of the stage to accept their awards.
Teachings from the TechFin Hackathon
The success of the TechFin Hackathon would not have been possible without the hard work and participation of the Alkami team, client judges, and the vision, support and sponsorship of the engineering leadership team.
The participants left the event not only with new colleagues and connections, but also energized with new ideas on how to improve Alkami from the inside-out, for the ultimate benefit of clients and their end users. Although the event has ended, the spirit of the TechFin Hackathon will continue to live on, as Alkami explores implementing some hackathon projects into production, and while tackling even more innovative pursuits in 2024 and beyond.
See what several Alkamists had to say about the event:
Alkami is always on the lookout for the best and brightest minds to join our growing organization. Learn more about our company culture and check out our job openings at https://www.alkami.com/careers/.