How do you judge a hackathon?
There have been a number of blog entries already describing the daytime hours of the 2014 Rocket Leadership Summit held in Boston last week. This entry attempts to focus on the evening, night and early morning hours, when engineers were riveted to their laptops in a bid to create something legendary in the hallowed ground of the Rocket.Build Lab. It was amazing to see so many striving to ensure that a ‘beta’ version of their product was ready for Thursday, and I heard a lot of managers comment throughout the week about the level of dedication being shown by engineers in the lab. It was wonderful to see how colleagues–often from different development groups–teamed up to create something tangible together.
Kickoff for the hackathon officially occurred at 10pm on Tuesday night. That would allow 40 straight hours (sleep is so overrated!) until presentations had to be ready for the final competition on Thursday afternoon. I don’t think anyone will be surprised to know that the Rocket.Build lab was already in full swing well before 10 pm Tuesday night.
There were a multitude of projects being developed concurrently with one common theme: innovation!
Any new initiative has teething problems. The ‘hackathon’ is no exception. How do you judge 21 different projects and choose a winner? I guess it’s important to focus on what a hackathon is supposed to be. Typically it involves creating a very rough prototype of a new product. In this instance, each project team had five minutes on Thursday afternoon to present to the executive team, who then chose the winner.
I do hope that future hackathons give teams more than five minutes to present their ideas, because this forces the engineers to rush through their demonstration, and provides little time to explain the idea behind the project, or answer any questions. An end session where the official judges and the general Rocket public come into the Rocket lab and take the time to sit down and play with the wonderful prototypes that were created would be more fitting. Then we will have a true ‘Rockathon’ with all players within Rocket getting the chance to get a true feeling for what the future may hold.
I definitely want to see this ‘hackathon’ develop into an annual event. I hope engineers get involved and continue to express the same energy and focus I saw at this one. That wonderful sense of satisfaction from a bite of pizza at 1:00am is only achieved when you have been hunched over your laptop for six hours straight after a long day. And I’d like to publicly thank Azeem Ahmed, a software engineer from our Waltham office, who was largely responsible for setting up Rocket.Build and ensuring it was a success.
If you’ve ever participated in a hackathon, what advice would would have for the Rocket team to make next year’s event even better?