This weekend, Slack hosted its first ever official intern Slackathon at its HQ in SF with the theme Build the Slack of Tomorrow. Here’s a little snippet of my experience, or at least what I remember of a busy 🐝 busy 🐝 busy 🐝 day.
Yep there’s an application—nope it’s not too long
Many bay area/tech-related Slack workspaces circulated the Slackathon 2018 application starting summer internship season, and it got to me around mid-June. The application was fairly short and standard (no painstaking essay writing—at least not long enough for me to save my responses on a doc).
By the end of June, I received an invitation email to join the [obligatory] Slackathon workspace. As the hackathon approached, attendees started forming teams of 4–6 after posting short introductions.
⏲ THIS IS A SINGLE-DAY HACKATHON. I REPEAT—ONE DAY. 10 HOURS. ⏲
Seeing that the event listed two dates, my team and I happily went along with assumption that it would be an overnight hackathon until a few days before when we were hit with the reality that it would only be 10 hours (aka when one of us actually read the event agenda).
Turns out Friday evening is primarily dedicated to a little bit of networking, an intro, a talk, a short workshop, and a brainstorming sesh. 🚫 NO CODE WRITTEN UNTIL SATURDAY 🚫
Doors open on Saturday at 7AM, when people start trickling in, but the hackathon officially kicks off at 8AM.
👐 Hands up at 6PM, so that’s 10 short short hours in developer time—slack on, slack spam, slack bot, slack app, Slack API—just no slacking off.
Food + SWAG
Things that make everyone feel like a winner walking out of a hackathon
Yesssssssssss. Stocked snack shelf, full beverage fridges. Friday dinner, Friday sweets. Hot cheeto dust as a mac n cheese topping. 🔥 Saturday breakfast, open coffee bar with lovely baristas, Saturday lunch, Saturday snacks, Saturday dinner.
What’s in the SWAG bag: Roomy canvas bag with subtle Slack branding, a cute black cap with an embroidered #, and a white pocket tee with the Slackathon logo. Few laptop stickers up for grabs as well.
✨ Something about free things fill college students with glee
The hamburger patty of the expository essay. Yes I am definitely still looking at the picture of that juicy slider.
My team used a combination of direct API method calls and botkit, which especially helped with dealing with callbacks. No one in our team had significant experience with Slack API, but we were able to send and receive responses from interactive messages and get a lot of features going by the afternoon. (👏 proud moment). It was also quite the testament to how intuitive/well-documented the platform was to develop on.
There’s also tech support available via Slack engineers/interns—S/O to them for volunteering their Saturdays to answer urgent questions from confused students.
Subtle plug if you were wondering what we were able to do.
💸 🤖 💸 🤖💸
I thought I’d drop some thoughts since this was the first event of its kind
10 hours goes by faaast. ⚡️ A 3 minute pitch to demo your 10-hour hour project goes by even faaaaster. I think 10 hours is a reasonable amount of time to develop a rough prototype of an app, but I did wish we had a little more time to take questions after the demo, since we didn’t actually get to answer many. The judges also seemed to have it hard bouncing from one station to another to finish scoring within less than an hour.
We were well-fed and the wifi was fast. What else could a programmer ask for? Oh, also shoutout to having stain wipes in the bathroom—if the video footage ever comes out, let me know if you spot a small girl vigorously wiping at a tomato stain on her checkerboard shirt. 🍅
A Slack developer’s toolkit 🛠 was provided to us before the hackathon, and as mentioned before there was also an intro workshop on working with the API. When there was still a little confusion surrounding the many many online documentations/tools on the API, we were encouraged to ask any of the 3-ish people at a time who were available to provide tech support.
Really small nit-picky thing but it seems that we, and a few other teams, had trouble with callbacks for interactive messages and message actions—it seems like the documentation provides examples on what you do after you receive a response, but not so much on how the request is sent/the response is received. It took a while to figure out and we had to look into Glitch for examples.
I really appreciated the diversity of experiences and skill levels (especially with Slack API) in between teams, but I felt like there could have been more diversity within teams. Of course, the best mindset for a hackathon is to learn, but especially since hackathons are structured like a competition it could feel intimidating when it seems like other teams have been building bots since they were tots. 👶 🤖
I know team-forming is a tough place for organizers to intervene (a hackathon team with your best buddies sounds like a blast), but it would be really cool to see an intentional staggering of skill levels within each team.
Takeaways don’t go-away. I must trap them on Medium so they do not escape
IS KEY 🔑 This theme was first emphasized on Friday night when VP of Engineering @ Slack, Micheal Lopp, led with some opening remarks. Our keynote speaker, Kippy Whitehouse (Co-Founder @ Donut.ai) also carried the theme as he introduced his company and product journey. 🍩
Slack is where work happens. How? Because everyone is there and they respond quickly. donut builds company culture. How? By solving your people problems.
If you’re having trouble condensing your product purpose into a simple clause and/or it’s laden with technical terms and buzzwords, perhaps its time to recalibrate and consider simplicity.
Paper Comes Before Text Editor
Something that struck me as Kippy discussed the product timeline for donut was that they really didn’t start developing until 3 months in. Instead, they did loads of user research and paper prototyping 📝, even typing in manual responses for the bot as they tested it among friends and within their network.
Ultimately, you really want to understand what users want. Even if you have an amazingly-executed product using the latest tech in random.choice([‘machine learning’, ‘blockchain’, ‘IoT’, ‘artificial intelligence’, ‘big data’]), you need to prove that it’s wanted. Perhaps as software engineers we shouldn’t abstract away the business side. 💼
Fun fact: The second-place team actually had a fairly simple product on giving feedback in workplaces, but (to me) their selling point was that they actually got 5 startups to endorse their live product within 10 hours. That’s validation.
Developing on Slack is Really Cool
Seriously. And learnable in less than a day. I think the trickiest part has to do with web stuff (requests/responses) and authorizations but the methods are built to be really simple but powerful.
If you heard a joyful exclamation at around 2PM on July 21st near 500 Howard St, its probably because our bot had just received its first successful response from an interactive message. Although yes, technically we just wrote the code that made it work, there’s still a little 🦄 magic 🌈 to it.
Some deserved thanks to my wonderful team, #team_name_here, my 9AM cappuccino for pulling through ☕️, Bianca Saldana for hosting, all other Slack staff who helped coordinate, volunteer, speak. judge, or serve in any way, and ofc @Slack many many thanks.