Developer and Designer Hacking Together

Pirate Ship Days 2016 Hackathon

Our hackathon–Pirate Ship Days-was tremendous fun, taking place at the end of our Global Team Camp (GTC) in Barcelona, Spain. GTC is when the whole company gets together for a week of meetings and workshops to set the agenda for the year. The developers stayed an extra day, giving us about 36 hours of hacking.

We brought together developers, designers, product managers, and people from our support and delivery organizations (who are all very technical). The parameters were broad and meant to influence creativity. Basically if it had to do with Tradeshift, it was a go. A few teams played around with new technologies, including 3D visualization and Leap Motion, database sharding, others chose to partner up with our support and delivery people to help solve some of their challenges, yet others decided to reimagine some parts of the TS platform.

Hacking

A goal of the hackathon is to get people from different teams and different offices to work together. This, along with meaningful contributions from some newer employees, were great to see.

Once the teams were formed and got into full swing, we categorized them into four broad categories:

  • Stack Improvement — improve the existing stack in some way. For example, upgrading some key libraries or improving performance.
  • Tech Spike — evaluate technologies that might be relevant either to learn about something new, or for potential future direction.
  • Improve support / delivery — ideas to solve pain points around customer integration and supplier onboarding.
  • Idea Exploration — reimagining existing Tradeshift applications to make them much easier, or even bolder ideas about some key user experiences.

It was amazing to see how helpful people were all around. Many paused what they were doing to help others, or shared data with other teams.

Additionally, having support and delivery as part of the hackathon was especially instrumental, as it allowed participants to learn about the challenges the other teams are facing.

Presentations

Part of a successful hackathon is presenting back what you have done, and making it more engaging by voting for winners–even if the prize is just pride.

We had sixteen teams, each allowed up to 10 minutes for presentations, but encouraged to take less. The presentations ranged from funny to “how did they manage to create so much stuff in so little time”? We even had one of the teams, called Tradeshift Talk, channeling Apple keynotes, declaring their project “off the charts awesome,” with an accompanying chart. The whole event was off the charts awesome.

One of the projects, named Tradeshift Talk, measured its own level of awesomeness

Some departments went so far as to offer a bounty for especially useful ideas, though at the end this wasn’t a huge selection criteria. We decided to do category prizes, with some larger categories having more than one winner. Lastly, we also awarded an overall prize for a project that would be “Most Immediately Useful and Valuable to Tradeshift.” The winner was a redesign of our app store that improved its design and fixed a few bugs in the process.

One of the engineers on “Reimagine Tradeshift App Store” team, Richard Navone, said:

I think it was a fantastic experience to see how people got together and combined creativity, experience and skills in order to address one of our biggest pain points on the platform and produce a very attractive piece of software to replace it. There was a real sense of purpose in the team and a great drive to deliver the best we could. It was a bit touch and go for a moment at the end, but everybody pulled through and after a solid effort I think we are all quite proud of what we managed to produce and eager to finish it off.
One of the “Winners” — Reimagine Tradeshift App Store

A number of the projects will get a few days (or weeks in some cases) to clean up the code and launch into production, validating their real world applicability.

Concluding Thoughts

Since we’ve returned from the event, we are now analyzing the projects to determine which can be further developed to ship into production and if any can be scheduled as part of a larger development effort. For example, some projects represented promising breakthroughs in user experience.

As far as the hackathon itself, a few things stood out:

First, it’s always great to see the creative juices flowing, with some people who you think of as quiet taking leadership positions and showing a lot of passion.

Second, the collaboration between teams was amazing to see, and allowed us to understand each other’s challenges better.

Third, a few key Tradeshift technologies really accelerated the development process for many of the teams, and deserve special shout outs.

  • Having a standard way to call all Tradeshift APIs
  • Tradeshift UI Components, which provide both consistent styling and a nice component framework that accelerates development.
  • Server for developing applications, known internally as the Apps Server, or V4 Server, designed for rapid UI development and acceleration. V4 Server allowed developers to build applications in node.js and Angular.js rapidly, especially once you have a set of backend APIs you can use.

Overall, the hackathon was a resounding success and I look forward to its next iteration.

Some Projects from Previous Pirate Ship Days.

Pirate ship days-Project highlights: Early payments visualization

Pirate ship days-Project highlights: Tradeshift discussions

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