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First Hack Day at Hearsay Social

Hack days are a long-standing tradition in Silicon Valley, and a great way to fuel innovation, spark new ideas, and collaborate on a host of projects that don’t always fit into day-to-day business activity. Leading tech companies—like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yahoo—often hold hack days throughout the year as a means to jump start internal innovation that may lead to benefits to an organization’s end product, solution or process.
As a software engineer at Hearsay Social, I often find myself asking my fellow engineers “What interesting side projects are you working on?” Like most engineers, I’m naturally curious and frequently spend time on nights and weekends working on projects unrelated to work that I find personally stimulating.
Because they are born out of curiosity, these projects are fertile ground for innovation, and are often sandboxes where engineers can test out new technologies that are not yet mature enough for use in a production environment.
To encourage the kind of self-driven innovation that only comes with free form, unabridged learning, (and as an excuse to spend a day working on our own projects,) my colleague Sukhada and I arranged to host Hearsay Social’s first hack day. We invited Hearsay Social engineers and friends who were interested to hang out with us on a Saturday to unleash their pent up ideas.
We started the day bright and early at 9 am (by engineering standards), and feasted on the requisite breakfast of champions consisting of donuts and coffee. We worked late into the evening, only stopping to eat lunch and drink beer from the office keg.


Nearly twenty people showed up, seven of which were guests, to work on whatever projects they desired. The projects varied widely, ranging from the simple to the complex, commercial or free, all having one thing in common: intriguing “hacks” that could very well lead to meaningful innovation.
hack day photo (1)
Below are a few examples of the cool projects we worked on:
Elayne, a friend of mine, has been teaching herself to code using online courses. She powered through her lessons on the Ruby programming language, occasionally asking someone for clarification when the lesson was unclear.
https://twitter.com/ejuten/status/574230408193175552

Mel, one of our user-experience engineers, has spent the last several months teaching herself iOS development

by building an app called “Hearsay Meals” which makes it easy for Hearsay employees to check

what’s for lunch, order dinner, and vote on what beer we should keep in the office keg. She, and two other

engineers she recruited, continued work on that, much to our collective delight.

I2CsegM

David, another Hearsay Social engineer, worked on his Darwin.js project that makes it easy for people to run,

and visualize evolutionary algorithms in a web browser. While still a work in progress, you can try this example

for yourself.

hack day string-evolver
Other projects included:

  • My manager, Robert, wrote a program to generate weekly progress update emails that he hopes can replace his presence at the weekly managers’ meeting. We’ll see.
  • Sam, took the first steps on an ambitious free alternative to a powerful data tool Google has been using internally for years. Checkout unique.

The event was awesome, and went better than we could have hoped for a first attempt. We are already planning ways to make the next one even better.
https://twitter.com/ejuten/status/574436297470709760
If you or someone you know would like to join us next time, please connect with me @captbaritone, or send an email to jeldredge@hearsaysocial.com, and we’ll be in touch! Feel free to also follow us or leave a comment @hearsaysocial.

A year in the life at Hearsay Social

At Hearsay Social, we recognize that our successes stem from the company’s energetic focus, collective approach and collaboration with our customers–and that’s how it will always be. We work hard, fast, close (often literally – despite our spacious floor plan) and, of course, we remember to play hard as well. Openly communicating and working closely is something that sets us apart from other companies, and we like it that way.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to apply to Hearsay Social, interview for a position, get the job, and work here for a year, check out this new video we just created!

And remember, we’re hiring!
[relatedPosts]

Superhero Spotlight, Intern Edition: Supreet Singh and Stanley Soo

Welcome to Hearsay Social’s “Superhero Spotlight” series, in which we highlight employees at the company that drive our engineering, customer success, marketing, sales, and operations. These are the faces of Hearsay Social!

superhero interns
Hearsay Social’s spring 2014 engineering interns, Supreet Singh and Stanley Soo, posing with the Hearsay Social engineering bear.

For this “Intern Edition” of the Superhero Spotlight we spoke with Hearsay Social software engineering interns Stanley Soo and Supreet Singh, who joined our engineering team through the University of Waterloo “Co-operative Education” program. Over the past few months, they’ve been helping our team and contributing code. Before we bid them farewell, we interviewed them to hear about their time here.

Names: Supreet Singh (SU) and Stanley Soo (ST)

Title: Software Engineering Interns / Minions

What are you studying at Waterloo?

SU: Mechatronics Engineering.

ST: Computer Science.

What eventually attracted you to Hearsay Social?

SU: It’s a startup, and the whole company culture seemed cool. Also, one thing I really liked was that they weren’t looking for a specific area of expertise. They were looking for a generalist so, to me, the company wants engineers to try out whatever they want and whatever they’re interested in.

ST: When I interviewed with one Hearsay Social engineer, she gave me a rundown of what the company did, and I thought the idea of how we were going to introduce social media to a particular area of the financial sector which never had this before, what we do with it, and how we use all the data, that was very interesting. On the other side, similar to what Supreet said, it was the generalist idea. We wouldn’t always be doing front end or just back end: we get to touch different parts of the app and really get to know the stack.

How does your typical day look?
SU: I get to work on front end, back end, iOS–whatever the team requirements are. And I get to experience different technology stacks.

ST: Mine is very different for very interesting reasons. When working on a small project or simple feature, I’d be iterating on it and getting feedback, which is pretty normal. For the bulk of the internship, I’ve been working on internationalization, which was very interesting because the workflow. I got to work on a lot of back end stuff and scripts. Typical day working on internationalization, I would work on scripts and communicate with the third-party translators we were working with and communicate that back to the team. It wasn’t just writing scripts or just deploying, but it was actually seeing the effects of that and speaking to people to see what it affected.

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Ryan Newton, Web Developer at Hearsay Social, “twinning” with Stanley.

Is there any specific accomplishment you’re proud of from your time here?

SU: I got to see the iOS app being built from the ground up and hit its first set of launch goals. That was pretty exciting. I got to see the product being built and then shipped, including improvements, small features, and whatever increases engagement.

ST: I’m very proud of the internationalization project because we switched from a process that was pretty concrete. The process before was very laborious because anybody outside of engineering couldn’t change it even though it was very trivial. We are now rolled out on a new system allows non-engineers to make edits and the system is streamlined for engineering processes. That was awesome because we rolled out that whole system, and I was a part of that.

What do you love most about working at Hearsay Social?

SU: The lunches are good! My ideas are heard by my team and it’s not like people say, “oh, he’s an intern so he doesn’t know anything.” The ideas are heard by the team, and I feel like I’m making a positive contribution to whatever features are being built out.

ST: I really like the process that we have, and it’s mainly because of the people. Whenever I get an issue or ticket or feature, it’s really open-ended and nobody ever tells me what to do. I can try whatever I think works and then I get feedback from other people around me. And the feedback is always positive: it may be “consider this,” which really allows me try new things but also get guidance when I need it. Someone else will look over your code, yet you have the freedom to really experiment.

How would you compare this to other internships you’ve done?

SU: I like the culture and the fact that I’m surrounded by so many smart people here. And, like Stanley said, the openness of the system. You can work on whatever you want to work on.

ST: What really stands out about Hearsay Social is that it’s really fast. You can take an idea, make something out of it, and then somebody else will review it. Here, even if someone already reviewed it, most people on the team will look it over and actually give you feedback.

What are you looking to do in the future?

ST: I just love the culture at Hearsay Social. I got to see Scott work on the blimp stuff for PyCon, which is pretty exciting. And just seeing him work on the facial recognition stuff around the office and how that’s actively embraced–lots of people helped. It was something that was part of Hearsay Social, it wasn’t just something Scott liked to do. Hearsay Social actively encouraged him to do that. I’d like to find a place like that once I graduate.

Scott's blimp at Pycon.
Learn about Scott Lobdell, a Hearsay Social engineer, and the autonomous 20-foot blimp he brought to PyCon here.

Time for the fun questions! What’s your favorite snack from the kitchen?

SU: Chocolate covered almonds and M&Ms. Unlimited supply!

ST: Chocolate covered raisins, because the chocolate is sweet and then the raisin is sweet, so it’s just sweet on sweet.

Favorite color?

ST: Maroon red. I love that color.

SU: I guess I’ll say “blue” because I’m wearing blue.

All-time favorite movie?

SU: Dark Knight.

ST: Mine’s probably something like Rush Hour 2 because it’s ridiculous.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

ST: Not getting lost in San Francisco.

SU: Dodging questions that I can’t think of an answer to.

Who is your role model, and why?

SU: Elon Musk is pretty cool. He’s founded over three companies, and the companies he’s founded have been game-changing.

ST: My father. He came from China, moved around different parts of the states, and later settled in Canada. He decided to explore different places to find the best place, which is something that followed me. That’s why for my internships, I’ve moved around a bit. I feel like I should explore even if I’m comfortable.

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Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, learn more about what it’s like working at Hearsay Social.

Autonomous blimps and internationalized code: Watch Hearsay Social engineers present at PyCon

Thank you to everyone that joined the Hearsay Social engineering team at PyCon last week! We had a blast, and we hoped you learned a lot at Scott and Ruchi’s sessions, which we’ve embedded below. Looking forward to seeing you all again next year.

Hearsay Social blimp at PyCon

Hearsay Social at PyCon

Programming an Autonomous 20 Foot Blimp with Python

Scott Lobdell, Hearsay Social software engineer, documents the journey of a less than conventional robotics application in which python is used as the logical controller of an autonomous 20 foot blimp. The blimp’s autopilot features, prolonged air time, large size, and smooth motion make it the ideal platform for aerial photography. Giving the blimp an onboard controller reduces the overall costs and requirements of the operation.
Be sure to read our special interview with Scott here and watch his PyCon talk below:

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Localization Revisited

Is your web app ready for a global audience? Ruchi Varshney, Hearsay Social software engineer, explains why internationalizing your codebase with gettext (bit.ly/pyconi18n) might just be the simpler part of the puzzle. It’s hard to maintain translations in a fast paced deployment environment without constant manual intervention.
This talk covers tools and strategies you can adopt to automate your localization process and ensure high translation coverage:

Superhero Spotlight: Akshay Shah

This is our second installment in Hearsay Social’s “Superhero Spotlight” series, in which we highlight one employee at the company that drives our engineering, customer success, marketing, sales, and operations. These are the faces of Hearsay Social!

SHotW_Akshay_BlogTitle: Data Scientist

Time at Hearsay Social: 2 years

What did you do before coming to Hearsay Social?

I’ve been a lot of different things. I was a public school teacher for awhile. I went to med school and was an EMT for a while. When I came out here, I was a spammer at another startup for about six months–I was in the shady margins of marketing. I was doing a mix of marketing and informatics work.

That’s pretty interesting. So what eventually attracted you to Hearsay Social?

Cool data. We gather a lot of data about our clients but we’re doing it on their behalf. We have the opportunity to build really interesting products using that data.

What does your typical day look like?

Luckily, I have very, very few meetings. I think I have a grand total of three hours of meetings a week, which is pretty awesome. The engineering team as a whole shields most of us from meetings. Other than that, my day is pretty mixed. I spend a chunk of time chasing down and fixing random bugs. I spend probably half my time building user-facing features in the product, and about half my time doing data stuff, which is usually more exploratory work that hasn’t found a home in our product yet.

AkshayQuote1What do you love the most about working here?

I love that Steve is actually an equal partner in running the company, and I think that trickles down to everybody on the technical side of the business. You never really see anyone coming up to the engineering team and saying, “I need you to build this thing. Go build it.” It’s always a conversation: “Our customer is having a lot of trouble with this thing. Can we find a way to solve that problem for them?” Engineering always has a big input in what gets built, how it gets built, and how the features are designed from the very beginning. That’s certainly not the case at many companies. I think that makes this a really great place to be on the technical side of the business.

AkshayQuotes2Is there any specific accomplishment you’re proud of from the past year?

In the last two years, I more or less taught myself to be an engineer. When I got hired, I got hired into a very different role not really focused on writing code. The idea was that I was going to be more of a business analyst, but nobody had a super clear idea of what the job description was. There was some notion that I was going to do some analysis and Excel stuff and maybe write some database queries… and write code if necessary. In the last two years, I’m officially moved over to the engineering team and I’m on the team that handles site reliability. For me, that’s been a really big growth. That role could’ve gone in a bunch of different directions. It was nice that we got to choose the direction we take that in.

What’s your best advice for job seekers?

I wish somebody had told me to take a deep breath. It’s gonna be totally fine, and this is a really good time to be a technical person. I was so stressed out about finding a job that I would really enjoy. In a lot of ways, I got lucky finding this job. Programming is a lot of fun.

Time for the fun questions. What’s your favorite lunch served at Hearsay Social and your favorite snack from the kitchen?

Favorite lunch is definitely the Thai food. Favorite snack is clearly the baked cheetos. The only thing in the running are the five-pound sacks of gummi bears.

Favorite color? Orange.

Favorite movie? The Seventh Seal.

Richard_Stallman_at_Pittsburgh_University
Richard Stallman, American software freedom activist and computer programmer. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

I want a prehensile tail. Think about how much easier it would be to carry three coffee cups! Cold winter day? Just wrap your tail around your neck. So many uses! If I were strong enough, I could pogo stick without a pogo stick. This has been my answer for this question since I was 19 years old.

Who is your role model, and why?

Richard Stallman. He has a bunch of really crazy ideas, but he’s the guy that made free software a thing. Our company wouldn’t exist without it.

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, learn more about what it’s like working at Hearsay Social.

Superhero Spotlight: Chase Seibert

Welcome to the first installment of Hearsay Social’s “Superhero Spotlight” series! Starting with this post, we’re going to regularly highlight one employee at the company that drives our engineering, customer success, marketing, sales, and operations. These are the faces of Hearsay Social!

SHotW_ChaseBlog

Name: Chase Seibert

Title: Software Engineer

Time at Hearsay Social: 1 year

What did you do before coming to Hearsay Social?

I went to a startup right out of school, Bullhorn, where I was for nine years. I was employee #8, and when I left there were 200 people. That was a great experience. Anytime the company doubled, it really changed the culture and our processes.

What attracted you to Hearsay Social?

I met the team at PyCon a solid year before I was really looking for a job. Hearsay Social was hosting a drink-up after the conference. (Ed. note: We’ll be at PyCon again this year, so look for Hearsay Social’s team wearing red capes!)

What does your typical day look like?

ChaseQuote_1sq

On an average day, I spend at least 60% of the hours coding, working on features our team is trying to deliver in the next two weeks. The remainder of the time is spent on company meetings and team-specific meetings around planning. We want to deliver all these features, so we have to discuss the design as a group before we start coding. We’re given free reign to figure that out. There’s not a lot of prescribed ideas from the top, it’s very open-ended, which the engineers really like. And then there’s always sports: I do basketball and volleyball every week and I’m trying to play flag football half the time.

What do you like the most about working here?

The caliber of software engineers we have is higher than companies I’ve worked at in the past. It’s really nice to discuss technical problems with people, and they may very well have a better idea than you about how to solve an issue. And just like other startups, there isn’t a lot of red tape or process in the way to make your ideas real. It’s within your power to do anything: you’re not dependent on another team or department.

ChaseQuote_2sqIs there any specific accomplishment you’re proud of from the past year?

One thing I’ve been working on is introducing “scrum,” or working to deliver in two-week chunks. From an engineering point of view it’s great because you’re confident you’re constantly working on the next high-priority item. It tends to let us design our own solution, working with the designers as we need them. We’re so committed to meeting our deadline that we’ll work extra hours if we need to, but we’re pretty good about delivering within those two weeks. And then we keep iterating.

What’s your best advice for job seekers?

If real estate is about location, then work is all about the people you work with. That’s what you really need to get a sense for when you’re interviewing. Do you really want to hang out these people every day? Because you’re going to be hanging out with them every day! Do they work collaboratively or is everyone just doing their own thing?

Now for the easy questions. What’s your favorite lunch served at Hearsay Social?

That’s easy: fried chicken and waffles, because it has hot sauce, syrup, and butter. I also love the Vietnamese bowl, which I loved so much I even tried to make it at home.

Favorite color? Definitely blue.

Favorite movie? Dances with Wolves, which my wife gives me crap about it because she thinks it’s a chick flick.

Do you have a superpower? I can reach things off of high shelves.

Favorite song to DJ on the office Sonos? Daft Punk is good to code to because it has a beat and keeps going.

appleiigs
Image courtesy of http://oldcomputers.net/appleiigs.html.

Who is your role model, and why?

Definitely my dad, who passed away about ten years ago. He really got me into both computers and cooking. He was just so passionate about Apple when they released their IIGS machine back in the 80s and he was an architect so passionate about personal computers that we got one of these super expensive computers right away even though we didn’t really have a use for it. I was 5–shortly after that I was building my own PCs, and it was all because of that first experience.

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, learn more about what it’s like working at Hearsay Social.