Since 2016, the Japanese giant tech corporation LINE has included a hackathon as a part of its onboarding process. Hackathon, coming from the combination of the words “hacking” and “marathon”, is a time-bound competitive event where computer programmers and other interested individuals work hand in hand intensively on software projects. LINE believes there are endless possibilities of all sorts of interesting and practical problems that can be tackled in a hackathon, such as developing a new student app, improving the in-house system, or optimizing user experience.
Most of us might know hackathons as a sort of contest hosted by tech companies. So, why do LINE make their new recruits go through a hackathon during their onboarding?
Japan has this culture where each year in April companies hires 200.000 students at the same time, it is called shushoku katsudo. This culture grows from an overwhelming tendency among Japanese companies to recruit fresh graduates. Unlike hiring experienced talents that often require a great deal of effort, there are a lot of benefits from hiring fresh graduates. For example, entry-level employees are typically cheap, ambitious, and flexible. Companies prefer to train and promote within due to the country’s heavy ‘lifetime employment’ mindset. As a homegrown company, LINE Corporation embraces this unwritten culture, too.
As a global tech company, LINE realized teamwork and communication are the two most important aspects of their business. Fresh graduate recruits, who are just out of school, will need more time and assistance to adjust themselves to the new setting of a workplace. “The work style at LINE is very hands-on even for fresh grads,” said Terada Takaya, LINE’s spokesperson who leads the new graduate recruitment and talent development team. Obviously, LINE took the onboarding process very seriously so they incorporated a hackathon as part of the employee orientation process.
“Hackathon is not just classroom training, but rather requires the participants to research, plan and create their own products, and above all else, it requires teamwork. So, this is a good practice of the real atmosphere of working at LINE,” said Mr. Takaya.
By hosting an annual hackathon, LINE hopes to achieve three goals:
On top of the event, LINE has other supporting events to engage with their employees such as design meetups or LINE Developer Day, which will be held on November 10-11. The company will also allow its employees to participate in external events such as the Boston Career Forum. Aside from the hackathon for onboarding fresh hires, LINE also holds a hackathon as a way of hosting internships.
Hackathon during the pandemic
Ever since the break of Covid-19, LINE has maneuvered and made necessary adjustments around the new normal. It was one of the first large corporations in Japan, with over 1000 employees, to add work from home policy, starting as early as February 2021. Other policies have also been rolled out to support employees’ well-being such as a flextime system for all employees, encouraging them to arrive and leave work without the rush hour, and monthly allowance for employees during the period of the emergency declaration, to pay for hygiene products such as masks, or for utilities.
Unsurprisingly, the hackathon onboarding system is one of the few work processes that thrive during the pandemic. LINE’s HR team admitted that the nature of working in a communication company also helps motivate employees to normalize the new normal.
However, as a global tech company, being culturally diverse also poses challenges against effective teamwork and communication. That is why LINE always provides interpreters and overseas support teams coming to Japan ahead and during the hackathon week. “We try to help reduce language barriers as much as possible. Engineering teams often consist of members from different backgrounds or even living in different countries. That’s why the engineering culture at LINE is meant to address, especially “Be Open” and “Trust and Respect”.”
For this year’s hackathon, LINE gave their new hires a task to create a LINE Official Account for an imaginary junior high school student with built-in features that serve the needs of students and their parents. No further requirements are provided and fresh hires are given the full freedom to come up with new ideas and innovate as much as they can.
Sharing their internal survey results to HR in Asia, LINE acknowledged that they always receive a positive response from new graduates for every hackathon. When asked about the experience of working in a team to create a product, most fresh hires felt the excitement of getting to know each other by sharing a “common goal”. “I thought that the key to team development is to share with the whole team the perception of where we are going and how we are going.”
“In individual development, all of this is done in your own brain, so there is no need to share information, which makes the differences stand out. I was able to understand the workings of each position and build a relationship of mutual respect,” said one of the LINE’s new hires.
New normal requires new ways to work. Despite its utmost efforts, LINE’s onboarding hackathon also faces challenges amidst the pandemic. Communication among engineers, for example, is harder to carry out through the screen particularly when explaining a code or function. However, LINE is set to keep being flexible especially during this trying time. To aspiring businesses who find it challenging to adjust their remote onboarding, LINE’s suggestion is to “be sensitive to change and be flexible in your processes to meet the situation and the needs of your people.”