Since joining Pusher last year I have participated in a few office hack days, each one unique, and a good opportunity to get our creative juices flowing. I love seeing the imaginative ways people use Pusher in their apps.
The concept of a ‘hack day’ was new to me before joining the start-up scene but I’ve become a great advocate for what hack days have to offer. So why have hack days? Some of the best projects we’ve created, such as tools, apps and games have been developed or conceived during hack days. These often go on to become projects that we work on full-time - whether for internal use or to share with the community.
Pusher itself started from a hack day when Max our CEO wanted to show realtime data visualisation of visits to a website. Seeing the need for this realtime tech in the developer community, it soon grew to become the company it is today.
Pusher is not alone in it’s origins. GroupMe began as a project at the 2010 TechCrunch Conference. It later went on to get acquired by Skype in 2011 for $85 million. Twitter was dreamt up during a “day long brainstorming session” at Odeo. Jack Dorsey, then employee of the company introduced the idea of an individual using an SMS service to communicate with a small group.
We eat our own dogfood (metaphorically). Having such a versatile product allows our imaginations to run free and makes it perfect for hack days and hackathons. The hack days allow us to get creative with our API and use it from a customer’s perspective. This allows us to look at how we can continue to improve it and eliminate any friction. Each hack day we get more and more creative with how to integrate our API; failing to complete our ambitious build on time during our recent hack day left us with little/ nothing to present to the team. We failed Marketing 101: “Under promise, over deliver”! However this is all part of the fun, not all projects will be a success and some will completely fail. This no pressure environment is what allows people to push themselves out of their comfort zone.
Incorporating hack days into our company culture opens up great opportunities for everyone, not just developers. It allows us to tap into other skill sets and build that tea-making roller-skating robot that you could only ever dream of. A lot of the best projects come from a variety of skills developer, engineer and designer.
What have we learnt
Every time we do hack days we are always having to adapt to changes whether its the setup of the day or new people joining the company. These are some of the improvements we made on our recent hack days:
Two days are better than one
We found that one day wasn’t quite enough time to complete projects and having two days allowed people to be more ambitious. It also allowed for the majority of people to complete their project to a satisfactory level.
We realised that often people would arrive in the office on the morning of the hack still unclear as to what they would be working on, this often caused delay and meant they were sometimes missing vital tools to complete the project. To help combat this problem we float around ideas a few weeks in advance and allow everyone to pitch their project suggestions and team up.
On the morning of the hack we can turn up and stuck straight in. People would get flustered when you suddenly call time at the end the two days so now we clearly set out the start and end time in advance. When it gets to the end we relax with a beer and present our projects back to the team, keeping it informal allowing for discussions and the odd ‘lol’.
It doesn’t have to be technical
In the past the non-technical people would feel a bit lost during the hackdays, so we encourage creativity in any format. This can be anything from concepting ideas, helping design interfaces, sketches etc.
We order lunch into the office to try and optimise the time we have and it allows people to discuss their projects whilst staying focused. Everyone loves a free pizza!
Diamond in the rough
Could you be sitting on the next multi-million dollar idea? While hack days aren’t primarily about developing projects for the business, it’s good to review what was produced and look at the potential.
We produced some great projects over our recent hackdays such as game gesture controlled by a Myo armband, collaborative musical rhythm sequencer, multi-player robotic arm.
Some of the best hacks from the day are getting further developed so watch this space!