When Engineers Get Free Reign: Convercent’s 2018 Hackathon

“I’d love to change the world, but they won’t give me the source code.”

Here at Convercent, our goal is to drive ethics to the center of business for a better world. It’s something we talk about a lot, but we don’t often dive into all of the small and not-so-small ways that mission comes to life.  

The engineering team is instrumental in pushing out new features and functions that make the Convercent Ethics Cloud platform as powerful as it is, and while we work hard on a daily basis, we also like to kick things into overdrive every once in a while.  

… And have fun.

… And get creative.

… And Get. S**t. Done.

What does that look like for us? A Hackathon!

What’s a Hackathon?

Hackathons are common in the software development world, and they can take on a variety of forms. Some last for 24 or 48 hours almost straight through, others take place over several days during set times. Regardless of the framework, it’s an event where a group of coders meet to collaborate, write new code, and solve problems.

Convercent’s Hackathon took place over three days, with teams working together during specific times. No one had to stay up all night (unless they really wanted to), but we did have a few rules:

  1. Engineers could work on whatever they wanted, but it had to be something in service of the app.
  2. Engineers had to work in a team of at least two people.
  3. The work didn’t have to be production ready – teams were encouraged to rip and tear with abandon. The goal wasn’t perfection, it was to explore, innovate, test new technologies, and to show off work without being afraid of making a mistake.

This year’s Hackathon was essentially an open season on the Covercent Ethics Cloud, with four different awards up for grabs:

 

  • Best Use of New Technology
  • Best Example of Solving Customer Pain
  • Best Presentation
  • Best Overall/Grand Prize

How did we get everyone amped up for the Hackathon? There were a few benefits to participation, like:

  • Prizes
  • A captive company-wide audience who came to watch the final judging
  • Unlimited bragging rights
  • An impressive trophy to aid in the aforementioned bragging

What’s the point of a Hackathon?

Amazing things happen when you remove boundaries and give people an opportunity to create freely. This is true throughout life, and it’s equally true during an event like a Hackathon. We didn’t have any specific goals in mind, but these guiding principles helped ensure success:

Unleash creativity

In a standard production environment, it’s hard to let creativity take over. Things have to be developed and released with discipline, at a sustainable cadence. But Hackathons are a different story.  

  • Developers can be creative and break rules, without fearing a mistake.  
  • New teams form, fostering expanding bonds of collaboration and exploration.
  • It’s the perfect time to try something new, innovative, and maybe even a bit scary.  
  • A cool concept can be demonstrated without the need for full product validation  

In essence, Hackathons demonstrate what developers can do if all impediments are removed.  

Give the engineers more influence

The realities of a production environment mean that certain features don’t always get developed, but Hackathons flip that script. They often reveal things, that if left to the normal product development process, would never have materialized.

Hackathons also provide an opportunity to test out new technologies, something that’s not always easy to do during a normal feature-driven development.

For example, one team demonstrated geo-routing of data, using new Azure components. This will allow the Ethics Cloud Platform to respect the political, legal, and societal boundaries of where data needs to be stored, while maintaining the impressive power of our Cloud-wide analytics.

This project wasn’t something on our roadmap, but after seeing the concept, we’re now putting that infrastructure in place.

Elevate the mood of the organization

There’s no other way to say it: Hackathons are just plain fun for everyone involved. That’s why we like to include categories like Best Presentation (which team OctoKai handily won).

They allow us to experiment with “The Art of the Possible”, even if there’s no immediate enterprise application. The ambition and energy is contagious, and it permeates throughout the entire company.

If you’re not convinced that gathering a bunch of engineers for a coding marathon is all that fun, I challenge you to watch this video without smiling: