5 learnings from Hack Days in FINN

Vegard Storstad
Jun 28, 2018 · 6 min read
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In FINN.no, developers are used to great freedom and great responsibility. Solution design and technology choices are being made on a continuous basis in our teams, and we strive to have all new employees to submit code in production the first day on the job. FINN fills an important role the in Norwegian society, and our passionate developers are every week devoted to build the best marketplace.

Overall we’re in a pretty good shape, but as a large organization we often see our experts in different domains get dependencies to people, processes or products from different parts of our company. We wanted to see what happened if we made an effort to broaden our horizon and invited everyone to think of sane and insane ideas.

It worked (obviously, someone would say), so here are 5 learnings from Hack Days in FINN June 7th & 8th 2018 👾

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Find your Inner Excuse 🧠

Taking 150 highly skilled professionals out of daily operation is not necessarily trivial. But it is not very complicated either. In FINN we work to solve high-priority market problems at high speeds, and there is not always room for investigative de-tours with colleagues in other parts of our tech environment.

This became our excuse:

  • Hack Days are about tough ideas, learning, error and breakthroughs
  • Hack Days without dependencies let imagination and ambitions run fast, unobstructed and in new lanes
  • Hack Days builds stronger team culture
  • Hack Days is distributed leadership and responsibility for the individual
  • Hack Days gives more innovation than strategy documents
  • Hack Days will result in new teams that impresses you
  • Hack Days are fun!

Costly? Possibly. Competence is expensive, but incompetence is more expensive. Besides, we have quite a good conscience since we are profitable (and then so). Did we mention fun?

Create the Best Atmosphere 🤓

Hack Days (aka Hackathon, CodeDay, Innovation Days, Challenges) are not new, either in FINN or in other tech companies. In FINN we’ve previously run different concepts, and in recent years different teams have taken local initiatives with great success. The community feeling and the attention it gives internally, however, become much more powerful in a larger format, ergo 150 participants from our tech department.

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The purpose of the pitch on day 1 is to share with colleagues what you want to achieve, as well as to recruit team members. If you do not have your own idea, hang on to someone else’s plans and make them yours.

Demo on day 2 is about showing what you’ve achieved, sharing #fails or just telling what you’ve learned.

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Make it Something Special ✨

Okay, you have people. Management are encouraged to sit on their hands and everyone are excited. We took it up a notch:

  • Breakfast in FINN cantine 😍 for all participants
  • Inspiration: Thanks to Aslak Borgersrud (journalist, editor, gamer, musician, rapper, etc.) who opened our minds with the talk “Aslak’s complete list of totally useless and too ambitious projects FINN.no should build to secure the future, build The Empire and earn MAD AMOUNTS OF CASH in the years (and decades) ahead
  • Inspiration: Thanks to the Platform & Technology Trends from Schibsted, which contributed to the challenges of AR and developing voice skills for smart speakers
  • Black drinks (Coke and coffee from the local café) & snacks
  • Dinner in FINN cantine for anyone who can stay past kindergarten and other commitments
  • Gadget Budget. We got some Flic.io buttons, 3D-printer filament, Google Homes, Amazon Echos, Philips Hue sets, Arduino & Raspberry Pi starter kits, sensors and misc China merch
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Measure the Effect 📈

In FINN we are awesome measuring and continuously improving. Understanding the impact of Hack Days, however, is not something that in the short term affects either traffic volume, loyalty of our users, revenue/profit, so the approach this time was (yet another) Google Form.

We asked 9 questions: Did you attend Hack Days?

  • What do you think about the information about Hack Days in advance? 🗣
  • What do you think of the lecture by Aslak Borgersrud on Thursday morning? 🎤
  • What do you think of the session where the ideas were presented in the form of a pitch from the scene Thursday morning? 📣
  • What do you think about the demo Friday afternoon?
  • How often should FINN arrange Hack Days? 🗓
  • How important are Hack Days to you?
  • What’s the most important thing you’re left with from Hack Days?
  • What is in your mind ✨The One Thing ✨ that would make Hack Days even better next time?

67 colleagues answered, and we’ve already applied this feedback in our planning for the next version of Hack Days.

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Inspect and Adapt 👟

So what are the most obvious learnings?

  • An overwhelming overall positive experience 🎉
  • Pitch and demo are not in the comfort zone of everyone, but very many liked the way to start and close the event. For keeps.
  • Two days go fast! We consider further facilitating that everyone gets even more time to work on their ideas. We can drop inspiration talks (although most people enjoyed the talk), postpone dinner day 1 and maybe push demo a bit.
  • The first time (in this format) is always special. That it was an unfamiliar format, unclear what to expect, how shielded one gets to work, and generally the way of things makes it more meaningful to rethink the concept only after some iterations. The format stands.
  • Open frames make food planning a little tricky, if you do not have to base on takeaway. With the FINN cantina in the back we are mildly well used, so here we must find better ways to meet the actual need 🌮
  • In a company of 450 employees, it is smart to schedule well in advance. Book enough rooms and allow colleagues to make adjustments to other obligations to participate. Hack Days on Thursday & Friday is the perfect end of a week, giving fewer context switches.
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What we built? Here are the ideas that were presented in the demo on Friday, which exploded solidly on time due to high involvement and fast-paced entertainment factor:

Top 3 (unpretentious voting with acclamation)

  • Generating 3D room models in VR from 2D architecture plans in real estate classifieds (80 dB)
  • “PuseFINN” voice search i Google Home (79,4 dB)
  • Jo made a computer game during his work week (79,1 dB)

…and some of the other stuff from the demo (not everything was presented on stage)

  • Bombe suitcase game
  • Hack on wee-slack
  • Voice controlled flight search in FINN Reise
  • Arduino ping pong serving
  • Reading station for FINN Customer Service
  • Augumented Reality-app for FINN Shopping
  • FINN orienteering map
  • Demoscene programming in C/C++
  • How was your day?
  • Alexa skill: Route planner in public transport
  • Predicate diff between announced price / actual price on real estate ads
  • Wi-Fi thermometer
  • Raspberry Pi game emulator
  • Clojure app for FINN massage booking
  • Misc. voice skills for Alexa or Google Home
  • NG R&I

Tags: Hack Days

Originally published at tech.finn.no on June 28, 2018.

FINN.no Blog – Product, Design, and Tech

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