At the end of March, some of our teams held their first 24-hour hackathon, titled ShipIt: Millennium+ Services FedEx Day. We had 41 participants, in 15 teams working on 15 unique projects. The idea was inspired by several teams spending a few hours every so often to work on different projects. After reading about Atlassian’s hack days, we decided to hold one.
The event was initially announced early in February, to give teams time to work this into their project plans. The schedule was to start at 10 am on a Thursday and wrap-up at 10 AM on Friday. Teams then presented their awesome projects and then were free to leave for the weekend (and catch-up on some sleep). Each team was free to choose the project they wanted to work on, with the limitation added that they should work on something which can be deployed somewhere in 24 hours (there were bonus points involved for deployed projects). The winning prize not only included bragging rights, but also the ‘Golden Keyboard’, which will be a traveling trophy.
Behold, the Golden Keyboard:
We had reserved a large room off campus to get everyone away from their daily routines. Teams immediately jumped into their projects as soon as the hack day started on March 27th. Plenty of food and snacks were on hand, with lunch and dinner delivered to keep everyone fed. A hackavision dashboard (Sinatra application which subscribed to a list of atom feeds) was created, to track all the github commits by the teams.
The projects had amazing breadth. These include Neo4j, Riemann, Capistrano and languages such as Ruby and Clojure. Teams not only learned new languages and projects in the 24 hours, but also had most of them fully functional and deployed at the end of the hackathon.
There were other activities as well, such as playing Xbox and watching the NCAA Basketball Tournament, which provided to be great breaks throughout the night. Motivational movies, like Robin Hood: Men in Tights, were also on tap through the night.
By 10 am on Friday morning on March 28th, everyone was ready to present their projects. We had four judges representing different areas of expertise. The demos were awesome and judges had a tough time picking the top three projects. Third place went to the SplunkOverflow team, who worked on a Maven plugin that would build site documentation for Thrift RPC services. Second place went to the Short Circuit team, who improved the performance of hash calculations in our Storm topologies. First place (and the Golden Keyboard) went to the Minions team, who created “lando”, a set of services that supported monitoring and management tasks on JVM-based Thrift RPC services.
All in all, it was an exciting 24 hours where teams showed their innovative abilities. All the projects were demo’ed to a larger audience about a week later. Most of the projects started on during ShipIt are being enhanced further, by the teams during their team level hack time or scheduled projects.
This was our first hackathon, but it won’t be our last! We will have at least one more later this year and plan on a recurring event, with the Golden Keyboard traveling around with the winning team. It was amazing to see what people can do in a short amount of time and with the flexibility of choosing what you want to work on, the end result will always be something cool. We hope to continue the innovative thinking, not only by team level hack days, but having larger hack days.