Reflections on Workplace Hackathons


I recently participated in a workplace hackathon.

Here are some reflections on the experience:

  • It’s hard to completely step away from day-to-day work for 2 days. Release schedules set long ago don’t change, we choose to keep customer facing meetings, incidents still need to get addressed
  • Conversely, much can be deferred (many emails can wait!), and a lot can still be accomplished in two part days
  • Two days of development and a 7 minute presentation are great constraints which force many decisions

It’s amazing how much you can get done when:

  • We start “fresh”, no legacy code, no figuring out what a predecessor was trying to do or why something was built a given way
  • We pick our preferred tools and infrastructure

There is such a big gap between a Proof of Concept and working production code:

  • We didn’t worry about production readiness (performance, scalability, stability, security)
  • We focus on prototyping ideas, as opposed to working on functional integration of all systems
  • We only focussed on the main flow, we didn’t worry about handling less-used flows or exception handling

Even without regular constraints, some things are still hard:

  • Firewalls make it is challenging to building a project with uses internal systems (even pre-prod environments) and external APIs
  • Data projects work best with production data, which is rarely possible. It would be really cool to have a legal and security teams participate to make quick decisions on what we can and can’t do with production data for a demo.

And finally:

  • For someone who’s not a developer like myself - this is fun opportunity to write some code - it’s fun to build
  • It’s also fun to play with new tools - last year, we played around with the Amazon Alexa API - when else would we set aside time to do this?
  • It’s a great opportunity to present to an engaged audience
  • The event generates such a positive atmosphere
  • The competition and feedback is immediate, which is awesome
  • A working prototype that can be demonstrated in minutes is critical.