A couple of months ago, James Pipe (product marketing manager) approached me with an idea that had been done many times by many startups, but never by Huddle: a hack day (otherwise known as a hackathon).

Naturally, I felt a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I’d hadn’t been with Huddle for even a year yet and I’d never organised a hack day before—I’d never even organised a hack hour (though I did organize a day when Huddle’s Product Engineering team came in with suits on to poke a bit of fun at our excellent and very well-dressed sales team).

“Okay,” I said, “let’s do it.” And I decided that I’d squash all the anxiety with excitement and as we began planning, we roped Toby in to giving us some advice since he’d done this sort of thing before.

We decided to hold the hack day on a Tuesday and agreed on a few other important items:

  • Huddle-only: let’s keep it in the family this time and restrict hacks to only involve Huddle software
  • Prizes: rewarding creativity and practicality is essential
  • 12 hours: 10am to 10pm
  • Encourage people to create teams ad hoc, rather than ahead of time
  • Jagerbombs

Soon, we had worked out what we needed to do and had given ourselves tasks: James worked out the budget and created a poster with a list of buzzwords for inspiration and I worked out the technical requirements (a single Gist detailing how to make a reverse-proxy in Node.JS for our API). I also acted as the official pep squad whilst James went on holiday and maintaining the countdown post-its on the posters. Apart from that, we decided to keep planning to a minimum and let creativity determine the rest.

When the time came, we had a siren the announce the start (we named it Eric Claxon) and busted out snacks, drinks and even some healthy fruit. We were ready.

Ideas

We invited the rest of the company to submit their ideas to a huge whiteboard on post-it notes the Monday night before. The response was unprecedented from Sales, Marketing, Customer Engagement, Product and Corporate. In total we collected over 50 independent ideas on the whiteboard. Some were ridiculous, and actually might have been fun hacks if we had more time (such as sound effects when you click things, or nostalgic customizable backgrounds reminiscent of MySpace from yesteryear). Most of the submitted ideas, however, are genuinely great ideas for features and improvements that will make great Tuesday Time (inspired by Google’s 20% Time) fodder. We were blown away by the enthusiasm from the rest of the company.

So, Tuesday morning came and the development team (as well as others who had submitted their ideas) gathered in the Huddle kitchen to be briefed and for an opportunity to elevator pitch their ideas to the rest of the team. And then, the scramble for teams began.

Results & Voting

It was pretty exciting getting our teams worked out. There was a fair amount of winking, nudging and general attempts (geek flirting?) to recruit the people you wanted if you had an idea that matched with their skills. Unlike dodgeball, everybody ended up getting picked to join a team—though some chose not to join a team and instead went rogue and worked solitarily on their idea. Once we’d all gone through an epic day of feverish programming and gluttonous eating and drinking, we headed home for some much needed rest. In the morning we gathered to demo our ideas to the rest of the company. The hacks were judged by four individuals within Huddle:

  • CEO
  • Junior account manager
  • Salesperson
  • Development manager

In an X-Factor style Q&A/critique session, they got all the info they needed and had a private chat after all the demos had finished to decide the winner.

While I can’t actually divulge any of the results publicly, I can tell you that what some of our Huddlers came up with was pretty great. We had a wide range of things, from useful changes to the app, some awesome in-house tools for us to play with and a game based on the Huddle API.

It was a huge effort from everybody involved, but completely worth it. We left it as open as possible and tried to encourage on-the-spot thinking, and recorded as much as we could. Some great ideas surfaced and some impressive implementations were done with such a limited time, and we all had a great time.

Finally, the most important thing to remember is that this is not supposed to be a trick to get staff to do free work out of hours. It’s supposed to be open, and fun, and encourage creative thinking, and if some good, shippable stuff comes out of it, that’s just a bonus.

Stay tuned for a separate post with some tips on how to throw your own awesome Hackathon/Hack Day event. In the meantime, what’s your experience with hacking events? Have you ever organized or participated in one? Let us know below.

Daniel Hough


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