Hackathon done right!

Rucha Joshi
Nov 25 · 4 min read

As we went remote first, we decided to meet every quarter for a week for some in-person time. The objectives of the in-person week — create closer working relationships and social ties as well as figure out better ways of working together.

Last week all 13 of us came together in Pune. Most of the team was meeting each other in person only for the second time.

The agenda of the week? A hackathon! We would get a chance to explore new ideas, learn new skills and break out of the regular work stuff. Also, a fantastic opportunity to team up with people we had not previously worked with and have a lot of fun!

In a war (conference) room at WeWork, Pune

Here are some of the takeaways from the week.

Setting the stage

Nishith and Deepa, the founders of Folly, had laid out a pretty cool framework with one guiding mantra —

“Talk is cheap. Show me the code.” — Linus Torvald

We could be in teams of 1 to 3 and have to create something for Thursday (our latest product) in 4 days, followed by presentations on the 5th day. There would be three award categories:

  1. Highest Impact — projects that address our customers’ needs
  2. Ship It — projects so well detailed out in execution that all we have to do is deploy on prod
  3. Moonshot — an innovative solution, a radical new direction, a giant undertaking, something that could make the rest of us go aah

People could be working in as many teams and on as many projects as they wished. Each category would have a winner based on everyone’s votes at the end of the week.

The hackathon

9 devs and 3 designers — all pretty kicked to show off their skills and create something awesome. Ideas flowed, and conversations got exciting. Fuelled by excitement people signed up to create up to 4 projects each. The numbers dwindles slightly as the week progressed and the teams were able to scope out the work in detail.

Every morning we would have a share-out and feedback session, which was helpful to both, narrow our scope and course correct. And while not all 15 projects reached the finish line, we still managed to present 13!

Thursday is a space where remote teams can come together virtually and play games in small groups. We call each session a ‘Social’ and each breakout game is a ‘Mixer,’ and the common hangout area is the lounge

The projects — a brief summary

The lounge saw some stellar additions.

  • icebreakers and media uploads — ready to ship
  • themes and tag games — ready to ship
  • face filters :)
Nishith with a filter mask on

New AI based mixer games

  • A game that detects eye blinks. Players race to the finish line by blinking — POC ready
  • A word association game mapped onto the arcade game — Tetris — POC ready

Deploy any branch — this DevOps project was brilliant in many ways. Rohit created a way to deploy and preview a new feature within minutes right on to staging without disturbing any other workflow, saving time and allowing for testing in a real environment.

Mixer studio — an explorative project on how we can open up to let people create their own mixers: No code, low code or customisations

Takeaways

These are my learnings, as well as the ones that the teammates shared with me:

  • The final presentation focused on the thought process- where we started from, why we pivoted (if at all), learnings, and improvements, which was helpful to judge the process and not only the outcome. Also, a great way to provide constructive feedback.
  • Daily reflection sessions expanded our understanding of Thursday itself and improved our ‘product thinking’.
  • Pitching ideas to enroll potential teammates to work with you — if done right, you can rally the right folks behind your idea :) Something a lot of us were doing for the first time.
  • Since people had teamed up with multiple partners, we got an insight into each other’s thought processes and preferred working modes.
  • The extremely fast working style with the teammates was rewarding and insightful. Now we are better equipped to decide what tasks to take on together.
  • Collaborative working enables quick problem-solving- it was much easier to find solutions when we were sitting together, bouncing off ideas.
  • Collectively we added at least 10 new skills to our kitty — from new technologies, languages, what to prioritize, and even people skills!
  • If we had each reduced the number of projects we did, we could have gone much further with the one thing we did.
  • Reducing choices sometimes can be good — be it choices to the end-user to help them avoid choice anxiety or even to build faster so we can test it quickly and then decide if adding more makes sense or not.
  • Learnings on prioritization, especially since we were not working with a Product Manager to help us out here
  • Pizza makes everything better, including presentation anxiety ;)
Pizzas and presentations ☺️

I 100% recommend you do this sort of event with your team. It is an excellent exercise in team-building, and you might end up with a fantastic new feature or a new product altogether.

Folly Systems

Good Design, Smart Engineering + An Act of Folly.