Hacking at CloudHealth


Hackathon
A little more than 26 hours after it had started, the votes were tallied and the winners announced. The prizes for the winners ranged from Bose headphones to dinner at a local restaurant to stock options. Steve took home our top prize for his work on internal customer reporting, which received lots of cheers, the loudest of which came from our solution architects. But before I get ahead of myself, let me go back to the beginning.

I’m a big believer in company sponsored hackathons. They provide a much needed break from the daily grind of building a product, and can be a cathartic release for pent up creative energies. Every company has different goals in their hackathons. Mine were simple: 1) promote innovations in areas at least loosely related to the challenges of CloudHealth (e.g. cloud computing, distributed systems, analytics, big data, ITSM), and 2) have fun.


Hackathon
Our hackathon started at 5 PM on Tuesday with the informal agreement you could think about a hackathon idea prior to start, but could not do any actual work. There is some disagreement of whether Vikram and Efe were caught working on their idea Tuesday afternoon - but the evidence against them was very inconclusive, so we let them compete anyway. ;)

True to our nature as a flex team, some of us decided to start our projects at home, while others cranked up the music, ordered local take out, and started hacking at our Fort Point office. While almost everyone had decided on their project prior to start, a few took the just in time approach to a hackathon project (i.e. me). Sean took this to a new level though, starting out with a well-defined project, and then after taking care of his crying baby daughter, deciding to switch gears to voice-enabling our application.

Wednesday was a heads down day for everyone, with no standup or any other business interruptions. I was surprised by the amount of cross-project collaboration that went on throughout the day, with engineers supporting other projects to help them finish on time. I know I never would have finished my Google Compute Engine project without the help of Steve and Efe.

At 5 PM Wednesday we declared pencils down, and our MC for the after-party, our CEO Dan Phillips, laid out the rules for winning (“nothing short of changing mankind”). We then proceeded to have each team present the results of their hackathon for 5 minutes, with 5 minutes of Q&A from the rest of the company. Some of the hackathon projects included:

  • Fully voice-enabling our application (instead of Siri or Cortana, Sean called it: “Dan”).
  • Advanced internal reporting on trials, customers and feature usage.
  • Google Compute Cloud support.
  • Simplifying our trial setup process.
  • Network topology map for AWS infrastructure, including VPCs.
  • Customer-driven metadata / tags.
  • Leveraging Druid in our analytics clusters.
  • ...and more...

By 7 PM, we had finished off several pizzas and beers, and everyone voted. Our VP of sales was responsible for managing the integrity of our voting process, so we expect a UN agency to be auditing our elections in the near future. With winners announced, we all packed up our laptops and headed home for some much needed sleep.

Our first hackathon was a great add on to our product development process, and something we will add into our seasonal release process. Over the years I’ve found each hackathon to take on a different feel, based on their structure, participants and sponsor. Ours reflected many of the things I like about CloudHealth. It was innovative, but still grounded in direct customer feedback. It also was highly collaborative, with each of the teams also contributing in some way to other projects. It was also loosely structured and self-organized.

The official winner for our first hackathon: Steve. But the unofficial winner: CloudHealth.