Here at RigUp Engineering, our team is rapidly growing (we’re hiring!), doubling from around 20 engineers in December 2018 to more than 40 in March 2019. To accommodate this new growth, we’ve built out an entire floor in downtown Austin.
With all the new engineers, we wanted to get to know each other and establish better working relationships. Thus, the need for a hackathon! And not only would we have the hackathon, we would cap it by going off-site to watch the demos and see a classic movie at one of Austin’s most beloved movie chains.
Here is how we started our hackathon as well as some advice if you are considering hosting one for your company.
How the hackathon came together
After the hackathon idea was born, engineers and product managers with hackathon experiences formed to shape the direction — informally known as the rules committee. The group drafted rules that encouraged creativity and sought to spur participation. We definitely wanted teams to feel encouraged to tackle any idea they were passionate about. We also wanted teams to consider some of the existing challenges RigUp has. Therefore, we created two different prize categories: a judges award and an audience-chosen award. The judges focused on solving a RigUp problem while the audience could vote for whatever project sparked their interest.
Besides promoting the hackathon in our Slack channels and in person, we encouraged all engineers to attend an ideas meeting where anyone could pitch an idea or join a team.
On the day of the hackathon the team spread across our spacious floor to work on their ideas. We limited the time to just 24 hours, so they had to dive right in. We provided pizza to keep the engines running.
By noon the next day, all the participants seemed a bit tired but excited to see the demos.
Shortly after the hackathon finished, the entire group of engineers, product managers and designers headed to watch the demos at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, just a few blocks from our office. Everyone was encouraged to attend even if they could not participate.
We had 10 teams covering about 65% of the engineers — plus some product managers and designers.
When the demos ended, we had the audience cast their votes and the judges went to huddle. While the votes were being tabulated, we watched the 1980's classic Back to the Future. Great Scott!
Each of the winning teams had some amazing ideas:
- The audience award went to a team that implemented GraphQL on our backend Ruby on Rails ORM. They showed how it produced significant speed improvements and demonstrated it would be easy to add to the product.
- The judges’ first place award was a team of one that built two different tools for our support team: one for quickly opening bugs on the system and the other to better answer a common question without needing engineering help.
- The judges’ second place team built a system integrating Twilio so that we can use text messages for better field communication with our contractors.
All of the winning projects are being slated for release into production by the product management team!
Advice for hosting a hackathon
RigUp has a data driven culture, so we conducted a survey after the hackathon to collect feedback. Every survey respondent indicated they hoped to participate in a future RigUp hackathon. Further, the survey revealed that a hackathon cadence of every 6 months is a good pace.
Other common feedback items:
- Teams wished they had more time: both between announcement and kickoff as well as a lengthier hackathon. Next time we will probably schedule the hackathon weeks ahead of time and will probably cover two full working days.
- The ideas meeting was the day before the hackathon and some feel that wasn’t enough time for some of the ideas to be considered. We will probably space this meeting to a few days before the hackathon next time.
- We had the movie space for 3 hours which rushed the demos and didn’t allow for much Q&A. Next time we might consider a shorter movie!
Overall, the hackathon lead to bonding and some great new ideas. We can’t wait until the next one!
Photographs courtesy of Rachel Deng