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.
— Jordan Eldredge (@captbaritone) March 7, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
If you or someone you know would like to join us next time, please connect with me @captbaritone, or send an email to email@example.com, and we’ll be in touch! Feel free to also follow us or leave a comment @hearsaysocial.