One of the cool things about working at Liferay is that you have the freedom to propose any crazy idea that comes to your head and there’s a high chance that they might like it. You know, like stopping the company’s Engineering department to work on different projects for an entire day.
Of course, I know that Hackathon's are not a new thing (some companies do that all the time), but we never had the chance to organize one and since our annual engineering retreat in Los Angeles was getting closer. This could be a pretty good opportunity to do it in order to encourage more innovation, open source, and collaboration.
Our first Liferay Hackday concluded on December 19th and it was incredible! We had more than 60 registrations and 8 teams show up to participate. Here's how it was it…
Once I got the "ok" from the VP of Engineering, Jorge Ferrer, it was time to start preparing everything. I've attended dozens of tech conferences and several hackathons but event organization was never my thing. Besides that, there were lots of projects and traveling going on so I just couldn't afford to pause everything to arrange all the event needs.
That's how Joshua Kuo got in the scene. His daily job was working with Project Management, but during the nights he was my partner in crime arranging everything from branded glassware to Costco snacks. Not only that, we also had to coordinate numerous issues with Marketing, HR, Facilities, Design, and Web teams.
Our ultimate goal was to create an event where everybody could have fun and learn. However, we didn't have too much time to set everything up. In a few weeks, engineers from all over the world were about to arrive in Liferay's Headquarters and we had to communicate the details on our Hackathon on time. Otherwise, airplane tickets were going to be bought and we would lose the opportunity to have them participating (which unfortunately happened to some people).
On December 19th, at 8:30am, we opened the doors and people started to come. Registration was pretty straightforward, just a simple name check. We waited until we had the room full so we could start giving instructions and setting expectations for that day.
After this, we asked them to start writing their ideas on the paper. If they didn't have any, that was ok because they could help someone to make their idea come true. Those who had ideas had to come in front of everybody to pitch. They had 1 minute to explain what they wanted to do and describe what kind of resources they needed to make that idea happen. For example:
"I want to produce Star Wars Episode IX and I need 2 back-end developers and 1 designer"
Recruiting was pretty organic and self-organized, each team had a maximum of five members and we encouraged them to choose people that didn't belong to their usual teams and offices.
The only rule was: your code needs to be on GitHub.
Once the teams were formed, it was time to start!
So remember how innovation and fun were our primary goals? Even with those points, the proposed ideas were really surprising for us! You could see things from crazy hardware installations to zombie killing games.
However, they only had couple hours to make something entirely new from the ground up, so we simulated a very chaotic environment with some loud music and a huge countdown.
Also, we tried to be as minimally intrusive as we could be, which means that things like food were served asynchronously through the day. Interruptions were made just to see if everything was ok and to check if they were still alive. Eventually, we played some Platform4Emotion too.
At 6pm everybody had to stop coding and move to the presentation area. Four rockstar judges were waiting for them to present their achievements.
- Bryan Cheung (Founder & Chief Executive Officer)
- Eduardo Lundgren (Director of Engineering in Latin America)
- Nate Cavanaugh (Director of UI Engineering in US)
- Ray Augé (Senior Software Architect based in Canada)
Each judge have a different key role in the company, that way they could analyze each project with an unique perspective.
The idea was not having one single winner. Therefore, we created four different categories that all projects had to be judged on.
Best Technical Achievement — Did the participants solve a hard technical problem? Did they get a working demo completed within the allotted time?
Best User Experience — Is it easy to interact and understand? How do you feel about using such it?
Most Innovative Solution — Could this be a radical innovation or a meaningful new take on an existing product or service?
Most Impactful Project — How does this changes the life of developers, employees, clients, partners, or end-users?
By now you are probably curious about what all those people created, right? Don't worry, we recorded every single presentation!
After all presentations (and pizza slices), we got the score sheets from the judges so we could check who were the winners.
For "Best User Experience", an app called Audité that provides a way for audiences to connect to people who are giving presentations. Basically, you could ask questions using SMS or through the web and the administrator could filter and display those questions. Their technology stack is made of iOS, Tropo, and Parse.
For "Most Impactful Project", a connector between Liferay Portal and IBM's Lotus Notes. For those who don't know, Lotus Notes is a product used by lots of enterprise companies and many have trouble with it because of all this huge legacy code built on top of it. This integration allows data to be fetched from Lotus Notes to Liferay's Calendar and Document Library.
Finally, for "Most Innovative Solution", an iOS app to improve engagement for Liferay's EVP (Employee Volunteer Program). The idea is that employees could easily post stories about their initiatives for other people to see and interact with. Also, one of the cool thing about this project is that it was built on top Liferay Screens.
A special thank you to all the judges who were able to come out of their busy schedule to help make this event possible. Also to the web team who developed the site, the design team who helped not only with the logo, but all the decoration and posters, and everybody that participated.
We're really excited about how can we make this even better for 2015. There are many ideas floating around, we want to include more and more people from other departments besides Engineering like QA, Design, and Support. Not only that, but what about bringing this to the community? What if we organize a hack day right after one of our conferences? As you can see, there are a bunch of cool things that we want to do.
But most importantly, what we want is to encourage people to make things different and have fun with it, doesn't matter if you work for Liferay or not.
Thanks again and see you in the next edition!