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Demystifying Hacking

Hacking
Growth hacking
Life hacks
Hackathons

alex-kotliarskyi-361099.jpgWe are seeing these terms more and more today, both in the marketing world and in our daily lives. But what do they all mean?

When I came to adWhite several years ago our developer mentioned he was a hacker. I smiled politely and said, “Oh, that’s interesting”, trying to hide the concern that was growing in me and the desire to rush out the door and let my boss know we had a staffing situation. As far as I was aware, hackers were people who gain unauthorized access to corporations and stole information! But as I became more immersed in the digital marketing world, I learned there was a lot more to “hacking” than I knew. Truth be told, I had seen for years those ‘life hacks’ on Pinterest and never really wondered why they were referred to as hacks.

Here is a breakdown of these terms:

  • Hacking – yes, there is the type of hacking my mind raced to for sure. Just type in “hacking” in Google and the first thing you’ll see is a definition of the word and a description of illegal activity. But the type of hacking that is trending today - and what my co-worker was referring to - is related to the hacking culture where advanced programmers look into the technical details of computer programs or applications and see how they work and how they can be improved. Whether on their own or in chatrooms online, they are trying to overcome software limitations to create clever and innovative outcomes.
  • Growth hacking – entrepreneur Sean Ellis coined the term growth hacker in a blog in 2010, saying “a growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.” Growth hacking is the obsessive focus on the singular goal of growth in a company. Varied marketing channels (both traditional and untraditional) and product development strategies are used to find what leads to the growth of a business. This hacking is all about pushing the existing status quo in an organization to find inventive, technology-based avenues for growth.
  • Life hacks – these are strategies, tricks, or shortcuts you can apply to everyday tasks to manage your time and activities more efficiently. From Pinterest boards, to Facebook videos to entire websites, you can find a plethora of skills to simplify almost any task. If only there was a life hack for remembering all of these life hacks for when you actually needed to use one… 
  • Hackathons – a hackathon is often called an “invention marathon” where teams work together to develop a product or solve a problem to create a real application that others can use. The teams are usually comprised of a diverse group of people with different talents so the task or topic can be approached from many different angles. The goal is not to just come up with the solution through brainstorms or dialogue, but to actually create the solution or product in a set time period. They are generally last anywhere from a day to an entire week and end in some sort of judging and prizes awarded.

But hackathons and hacker culture aren’t just related to technology and software, these ideas are applicable to every business. As consultant firm McKinsey & Company wrote, these are “less about designing new products and more about “hacking” away at old processes and ways of working.”


So maybe everyone needs a hacker on their team. I’m glad to know adWhite has one.

Jennifer Marquart

About the author - Jennifer Marquart

Project Manager, new mom, lover of mountains and anything Snoopy

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