Despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that has many people working from home, LINE continues to hire hundreds of young engineers every year. And now, more than ever, the question looms of how to onboard so many new hires. How to teach them what LINE means and what makes the company special? How to make them feel part of LINE’s 2,800-strong family in Tokyo?
At LINE, we didn’t want the usual barrage of boring slideshows and droning presentations that too many companies use to orient new employees. We wanted to challenge and excite our fresh faces, and to show them what it means to be a LINER. Which is why, since 2016, hackathons have been a central part of the onboarding process.
Hackathons — a portmanteau of “hacking” and “marathon” — are still a relatively recent concept, bringing together enthusiastic developers and designers to work furiously on solving problems and developing projects over a relatively short time. All sorts of interesting and practical problems can be tackled in a hackathon: “Build an app that helps students learn better.” “Develop a secure, in-house system for applying AI to customer service requests.” Or “Find a way to optimize the digital shopping experience.” The possibilities are endless.
Adapting the hackathon as an onboarding framework is novel, but it well suits LINE’s collaborative and lean way of working. New employees work together on simulated problems that are very close to the ones they will face during their careers at LINE. This year employees were split into nine teams, each with members from different backgrounds.
Five days of challenges, collaboration and, most importantly, fun
On the morning of Day 1, the atmosphere was electric. Even though the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic meant that all onboarding events this year were held online, everyone was still full of excitement and first-day jitters.
The teams were then given the task they would be working on for the upcoming week: create a LINE Official Account for an imaginary junior high school that has built-in features that serve the needs of students and their parents. Since no further specifications were given in terms of what those services should be, it gave the new LINERs room to be creative and explore the needs and wants of both user groups.
“This is a great way for new employees to get to know the company better and create something – but that’s not the only goal,” says Ririka Tsubaki, the person in charge of the hackathon from LINE’s Human Resource Development team. “Getting to know your colleagues and feeling like a part of the community is one of the primary objectives.”
Then it was time to get to work. Teams split into their own groups (virtually) and begun to make plans and assign responsibilities. Engineers set up their development platforms while non-technical members started to map out the outline of the project, including ideas for the services the final prototype platform should provide. Unlike a regular hackathon (which can run all night), participants were reminded to keep their work within sensible hours and report their working hours each day.
The week was dotted with checkpoints and feedback sessions where senior LINE members could give direction to the new LINERs and help them stay on the right track. In just one week, the 46 new LINERs gained a deeper understanding of what the typical process of creating a service at LINE entails. In addition to that, they got to create a solid network of colleagues and friends across the organization.
Getting to know colleagues and LINE better
“I had an amazing team that I want to get to know better,” said one new employee from South Korea who was joining the Planning Department. “As I got to know everyone and their strengths better, it was much easier to form a solid team where everyone knew their roles.”
Meanwhile, an engineer from Japan was particularly delighted about how the event helped him explore his creative side. “It was really inspiring to work with people from different backgrounds,” he says. “Since my team had people from across the world, I noticed that they could come up with ideas I never would have thought of.”
Lastly, he emphasized a lesson that he learned about communications. “Regardless of one’s background or profession – communication is a sure way to improve a team,” he says. “I now know how to devise my message in a way that can be received in a way that I intended, even in a multi-cultural environment.”
The intensive week finally drew to an end but the excitement remained, as the teams gathered for the final session. There they took turns to give a short presentation about their work, with three minutes to demonstrate their solutions in action — just like at any hackathon. Smiles and inspired faces filled the online conference room as the new employees and managers alike enjoyed each other’s creations.
It was a demanding week, but the new LINERs said they were both happy and relieved. Another hackathon had served its purpose, and they were that much more confident and readier to start work after a weekend of rest.