Cisco AppDynamics Hacky New Year 2021 Case Study
Hacky New Year is Cisco AppDynamics’ annual hackathon. What started out as casual engineering meetups to improve Appd’s product has transformed into a company-wide event that drives a strategic innovation agenda, forges the employee community, retains talent, and yields business-impactful IP.

2021 marked the 4th consecutive year that the Innovation Labs team was tasked with developing AppD’s staple event at the intersection of culture and technology. While this year presented familiar hurdles of reverberating innovation and connection across a 2,000-person global organization, the unprecedented circumstances stemming from a global pandemic and civil unrest introduced yet another layer of challenges. For the first time, our team was designing a large-scale event while many employees were feeling plagued by uncertainty, exhausted from a new work-life dynamic, and emotionally fatigued from a snowball of turbulent events. It was clear we needed to rethink our approach.
Video animation created by Tricia Mendoza
Event Research
Some of the questions we asked ourselves while reimagining Hacky New Year 2021 were:
1. How do we drive innovation when energy levels are at an all-time low?
2. How do we facilitate meaningful connections between employees when physical proximity isn’t an option?
3. How do we create a safe space for people to feel inspired, galvanized, and valued when they’re confined to the 4 borders of a screen?

Event Solution
Our solution was to create a 4 week virtual hackathon tournament where every AppDynamo could develop their innovative ideas on their own time, meet new people through purposefully curated experiences, and be empowered by inspiring content.

Event Mission
To instill a sense of community and resilience by fostering participants’ connection to the organization, their pods & crews, and themselves—in a safe, inclusive, and creative space.
To keep our goals in sight while developing the event, we established three cornerstones to be the root of all our decisions: EmpowermentSeats at the table, and Resilience.
Team research and development brainstorming mural
Event Details
By hosting HNY2021 over a 4 week hacking period we believed there was an opportunity to evolve the nature of competition into a journey that built resilience and offered more opportunities to connect with far more people. 

To maintain and build interest over this period we broke the hackathon up into a 3 round tournament that was judged at the end of each round. This reduced the competitive pool of teams every week to ultimately yield a single winner.

In addition to the hackathon tournament we hosted talks, fireside chats, mini-games, hack crawls, and more. We invited industry leaders including Arlan Hamilton, Founder of Backstage Capital; Dug Song, co-founder and General Manager of Duo; and Minda Harts, best-selling author of The Memo to share their own experiences taking a seat at the table.

All events and content was hosted via WebEx through the HNY2021 website.  

No matter the skill-set, bandwidth, or familiarity with hackathons, there was something for everyone at HNY2021. Our multiple participation tracks and inclusive events made it easier than ever to be part of the innovation, connection, and inspiration! 

The choice of participation tracks were as follows:
Audience member: Had access to talks, workshops, mini-games, and the Hack Crawl.
DIY hacker: Curated their own team of hackers and had access to talks, workshops, and mini-games.
Super Team hacker: Joined a curated team and had access to talks, workshops, and mini-games.

In previous years, HNY was managed individually across international offices. But, when the pandemic forced millions of people to indefinitely work from home, we saw it as an opportunity to connect the organization in a way that’s never been done before. By developing a HNY2021 event website where teams from different time zones could asynchronously submit work and view live content, we were able to create a single, unified hackathon across 14 countries.
Scope of Work
Event research & strategy
Logo & brand identity system
Event coordination & implementation
Mini-game construction & production
HNY2021 website
Marketing communications & assets
Vendor communications & swag
Impact assessment & case study
Follow up documentation

March 2021(4 weeks)
The term “safe space” gets thrown around a lot these days, so when our team decided to build HNY around that concept, we talked about how we could be intentional and authentic with our interpretation. What emerged from our conversations were two approaches for fostering a safe space within a completely virtual event:

1. By developing a strong brand system with consistent visual treatments and thematic integration, we were able to create a trusted atmosphere for our attendees at a conscious and subconscious level.
2. Providing guidance by using a multi-channel comms approach to keep teams informed about what was happening and when. We also provided workshops that gave hackers the opportunity to practice and fail in a safe environment for skills like creative problem-solving, prototyping, and executive presence.

Our small team consisted of several visual designers and strategists, a UX designer, art director, frontend engineer and project manager. We all participated in bringing this hackathon together both individually and as a team through group strategy and logistics brainstorming, design and copy writing critiques, communication and marketing development, participation, and much more. We all had the opportunity to assist each other and with new and unique tasks and larger event challenges. My specific role on this project was primarily focused on leading the brand identity and event theming. 

My goal was to highlight the event's values of connection, resilience, individuality, and empowerment among others in a energetic and uplifting design. ​​​​​​​
My Role
Logo & Brand identity system
HNY2021 Website UI
Vendor communications & swag
Event presentation decks:
• Look & Feel deck
• Roadshow deck
• Opening & Closing ceremony deck
• Event Playbook & team submission templates
• Impact assessment
• Case study​​​​​​​
Logo & theme development

Final logo design
This logo was designed to represent many things but above all it highlights HNY21's values, goals, and intentions. It stands for connection, resilience, individuality, having a voice, empowerment, and strength. It encourages building towards a goal, utilizing and uplifting AppDynamos, embracing our differences and similarities to always create something great. 
Primary palette
Logo color palette
Website sneak peek
The CMS platform our team was contracted to use for our HNY21 website had great backend management and data analytics tools and features but the frontend optimization and customization was extremely complicated and limited. Our final product provided the functional navigation and user journey we required but lacked the strong, clean, bold UI design and user experience we sought in our initial design concepts.
Webex Environments
We provided a series of unique Webex backgrounds for participants to engage, connect and have fun promoting and participating in the event. 
HNY21 Swag
Enamel Pins, Puzzle, Travel Journals, Blanket, Polaroid​​​​​​​ Camera
Case study presentation deck
Impact assessment
While a month-long, virtual hackathon tournament was able to curtail some of the extenuating circumstances we faced, it simply was no substitute for an in-person event.

In our HNY2021 survey, 86% of polled participants reported making new connections or deepening existing ones during the event. Though this number is very comparable to the 87% that reported the same last year, it’s perhaps more impressive considering the significant contextual barriers to connection that this year posed. 

Though 67% of survey respondents rated their HNY21 experience as positive, we saw room for improvement in empowering hackers. Survey feedback showed a high concentration around attendees feeling discouraged by the elimination model of the event, and that they needed more support and feedback from managers and judges. Both were products of the limited resources and low visibility that came with an all-virtual, international event.

On the innovation front, our efforts fell short. Data showed an 8% YoY decrease in the number of innovations from 2020. Despite extending HNY to 4 weeks, polled participants cited too many competing responsibilities, too little time to hack, and not enough managerial support as obstacles to hacking.

During our Hack Crawl, where the top teams pitched their final projects live to judges, the entire org was invited to watch, ask questions, and vote for their favorite team. This year’s event garnered 324 votes – the highest voter engagement in HNY history!
HNY21 post-event review and recommendations mural
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