Fall in New York is a very special time of year. The leaves in the parks turn, the streets are graced by crisp Atlantic air, and the days of sweating on the subway platforms are but a repressed memory. This past November, as most New Yorkers pulled on their sweaters and geared up for Turkey day, Product & Engineering employees over at Compass geared up for another event: the Compass November Hackathon.
There are few traditions more celebrated in engineering organizations than hackathons. These events bring engineers together for the love of what got many of them into the profession in the first place; the joy of building things. The Compass Fall Hackathon was my first hackathon to date, and I hope to participate in many more to come.
The rules for the hackathon were straight forward: Five-person teams had five days to hack together focused software projects, followed by a demo day consisting of deliverable presentations from every participating team across our three national engineering offices. A panel of judges would then review these presentations and decide on winners.
On the technical side of things, Compass was fortunate enough to have the nice folks over at Amazon Web Services sponsor our Hackathon with a dedicated account with $50,000 worth of compute credit — a very sweet perk indeed. Our 40+ hackathon teams made great use of this resource.
Let the Games Begin!
The hackathon began on a Thursday. After the ceremonial kickoff in the morning, it was go time. My team sought out to build a search tool to help Compass agents find agent-to-agent referrals easier. For our project, we chose to use one of the common web-based stacks that we use at Compass (React/Go/Postgres). We all had familiarity with these technologies, and with only five days to build a demo-worthy prototype, we didn’t want a new stack to hinder our development velocity. We made sure to devote a good bit of time planning our technical approach, spending the majority of our first day creating requirements and diagramming our architecture on a whiteboard. Walking through the halls of the 10th floor that night, the amount of whiteboards and glass walls littered with bullet-pointed lists and arrow diagrams were telling that it was a planning day for many teams at HQ.
Once we had figured out what steps needed to be taken to make our vision a reality, we divided and conquered, spending much of Friday setting up our infrastructure and writing our backend service. Saturday and Sunday were spent hacking away, wrangling data and iterating on our frontend UI. By Monday, we were continuing to polish our frontend, squashing bugs up until the deadline.
Demo day at HQ was nothing short of a spectacle. Hackathon teams from New York, D.C. and Seattle tuned in to present projects ranging from augmented and virtual reality experiences, to innovative new mobile features, and everything in between. Our team was fortunate enough to be one of the first presenters, allowing us to sit back, relax, and fully enjoy the rest of the demos. Above all else, demo day made me feel extremely proud and humbled to work with such a talented group of individuals here at Compass.
Being my first hackathon, there are a few key takeaways that I’ve considered for my next hackathon that I’d like to share with anyone else who may be interested in participating in such an event:
- Practice your pitch, then practice it again.
- Don’t wait to build your UI.
- Commit to some level of code quality, even in a hackathon setting.
- Go back and practice your pitch again!
Last but certainly not least, a huge thank you is in order to everyone who helped coordinate this event and made this experience possible. I couldn’t imagine a better first hackathon experience.