On a Friday in late October, DiUS had its first-ever, company-wide Hack Day. Everybody at DiUS joined in: engineers, business analysts, account managers, administration staff, and our directors.
Most hackathons have a theme. Our theme was intentionally broad, as we wanted to have a minimum of stipulations and to unleash the creativity of our people. We did have a bit of a guide though: we could hack anything to help DiUS, our customers, or the community. It could be software, hardware, process, or any combination. We wanted to encourage risk-free experimentation, so it wasn’t a competition, and there was no judging.
Why we did it
We already have a healthy level of innovation intrinsic in our people. They are constantly looking for better ways of building solutions more quickly. They do it for the pleasure of it.
Over the last couple of years we had been doing smaller versions of a Hack Day; we called them Spike Days. A Spike Day comprised a few people at a time, investigating a technology or process of interest. We learned quite a lot from those. We wanted to give that learning an even bigger boost, by providing a way for everybody to experiment at once. Hence, a company-wide Hack Day.
As well as the broad theme and absence of competition, we wanted to share whatever we came up with by open-sourcing the solutions on GitHub. This has already borne fruit: Travis Dixon’s hack to port Pact to the JVM has been enthusiastically received by some of the folk at REA who want to take advantage of Pact in their integration tests, and to build on what Travis’s team achieved on Hack Day, taking it further. This is a very satisfying outcome.
Other solutions include:
- Our Internet of Things project to measure office environment conditions such as temperature, humidity, air quality, and noise level was boosted by a few hacks: building the sensor motes and the gateway, visualising the time-series data, and designing a 3D-printable enclosure.
- Arduino-based table tennis radar to measure the speed of serves. Apart from a useful social purpose on the new table tennis table, this hack gave the team some good experience in programming in time-critical, resource-constrained environments.
- A more efficient automated way of submitting and approving consultant expenses with a mobile phone, making it easy and quick for both the consultant and the approver.
- Web page-based consultant summaries to replace Word documents. The idea was to create a web application that allowed a consultant to update their project experience, and provided customers with an easy way to view them.
- A drinking bird that deploys web applications to production, showing how the hard work put in behind the scenes makes it so easy to deploy an application to production that a bird can do it.
- An application for running a “Capture the Flag” tournament. “Capture the Flag” is a way to learn security by hacking apps with intentional vulnerabilities in a “game” type environment. The app makes it easy for people to set up capture the flag target apps in AWS along with some resources and hints to help them learn about the vulnerabilities and how to avoid them.
Hack Day was a great start to these and many more hacks, showing what cool things we can achieve when we can freely experiment. We are looking forward to our next Hack Day early next year. In the meantime, feel free to use and improve on these solutions.