Hacking the Findaway way

05 Nov
November 5, 2012

This past Thursday the Creative, IT, and Product Development teams got together and had our very first Hackathon, otherwise known as Hackaway.  The idea came from various other companies that we’ve heard do a 24-hour period of working on a new product or improvement that is outside everyone’s normal work experience.  Facebook, Atlassian, American Greetings, Yahoo, and many other companies have done similar events, and it seemed like a great idea to try out here at Findaway.

The first step was to have a pitch day where several of us presented our ideas for what we should be working on.  We figured we could either work on one big team or a few smaller teams, depending on what idea(s) won out.  The pitch meeting was fun and quick, and in the end we came up with the idea of Hearquotes, a site for recording, sharing, and voting on audio quotes.  It plays well with the core of our business while also venturing out and doing something different.  Being true Findawayers, we were really ambitious.  We’d start on Thursday at 9am with nothing but a general idea and a name.  No servers, no code, no database, no creative, no plan, and no idea what people would be working on.  By Friday at 9am we had the goal of having a viable product with a web front end, a droid app, and an iPhone app.  Again, this seems really ambitious in retrospect, but that is just how we are.

I’ll let others tell their story in various blog posts, but in the end I believe it was hugely successful in a lot of ways.  Beyond the fact that I had a blast, we also learned some lessons that’ll be useful for the next one that will hopefully help us push ourselves even more.  Amongst the lessons I learned are the following:

  • It is a lot of fun working side by side with others on a project instead of being on your own island.
  • It is hard to get an ambitious project done when you don’t have some or all of the creative and backend done first.
  • Throwing all members of a functional team in one room is really effective.
  • Throwing all members of an entire project in one small building with no one else around is really effective.  Communication is instantaneous and frequent.
  • A team can get a lot done if they can focus on one thing.
  • It is really hard to both learn a new technology AND stick to a hard deadline … but it is a ton of fun.
  • I lose all ability to communicate at around 12 hours straight of development.
  • When my communication disappears, my programming ability doesn’t.  Apparently my brain shifts its still-firing neurons to the part that writes code.
  • AWS is cool.
  • Lots of food and having a fun project makes people work really hard.
  • A big project is great to be able to deliver something big, but it also has its downfalls.  Big projects can sometimes lead to more confusion on what needs to get done, leads to people having a hard time staying busy non-stop, and sometimes leaves people with certain skills out of the mix.  I’m not sure what the right answer is yet or maybe it just depends.
  • I love working with these guys and gals.  We have a ton of really talented people at Findaway.  An event like this allowed many or all of them to shine brightly.

I can’t wait for the next Hackaway.  I’m sure it’ll be even better.

Jason Lutz

Jason is the IT Manager at Findaway World but is a developer at heart.  He loves to solve technical problems and get stuff done.

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