How NextRoll encourages Engineering and Friends to take a week off to build amazing stuff!

Alex Leu Written by Alex Leu, November 26, 2019

NextRoll Hack Week

5 minute read


Hello! Alex here from NextRoll!

Don’t you ever wish there was a time reserved to build any idea you had in mind? Maybe it’s some technical debt that you’re hoping to clean up, some new language you’re hoping to play with, or just collaborating with other engineers in the organization to build something fun. Well…NextRoll has the solution for that…and it is HACK WEEK! Yes, we get a full week of hacking! Twice a year!!

What is Hack Week?!

Hack Week is a twice-yearly engineering event where engineers and friends can work on a project of their own choice. There are events (like a kickoff, a wrap-up with demos, and a fabulous dinner for the winners) and some rules, but outside of that, what you work on is up to you!

We encourage anyone to join Hack Week! People from Marketing, Operations, Account Management, and more have all participated in the past. Projects have addressed pain points, technical debt house-cleaning, and MVPs of new ideas. In the past, we’ve seen folks make a video game emulator, an MVP for the next NextRoll product - or people just take the opportunity to play with new frameworks, languages, ML models, and more!

The event is also quite a logistical challenge! Coordinating Hack Week between our local Engineering group in San Francisco, remote engineers, and the Product organization takes multiple coordinators. Fortunately, we have a team of Hack Week coordinators – with Jose Hernandez coordinating for Remote Engineering, Zachary Swetz coordinating from the product perspective, and our advisor Jessica Grist to help us ensure everything is done smoothly.

What do I get from participating in Hack Week?

When folks join Hack Week, they not only get the excitement of working with new people for a short amount of time and the ability to work on something they have wanted to work on, but they also get SWAG! Yes! We give out cool swag shirts like these in the summer:

Hack shirt!

And for the winter we give out cool holiday swag like these: hackswag

Other swag we have given in the past includes winter socks, finger-less gloves, beer stein, etc.

What if I don’t know what to build?

Need ideas to figure out what to build? We have solutions for that as well! Introducing Bounty Awards and Brainstorming session!

Bounty Awards

Different organizations at NextRoll have different needs. They have their pain points, and also their own ideas of what they would like to see built during hack week. To encourage engineers and friends to work on the project, organizations can set a bounty price. They offer prices given the project that is built to solve their primary pain point.

For instance, Marketing, inspired by our culture creature, sponsored the “Most Customer-Centric Award” to encourage projects to directly benefit our customers. dog

Account Management sponsored the “Do More With Less Award” – also inspired by our culture creature Beaver. beaver

These awards help provide ideas for what engineering and friends would like to build for Hack Week. Again, the decision to choose which project to build is really up to you!

Brainstorming Jam Sesh!

A month before each event, we host two lunch meetings for Hack Week brainstorming – where people can come in and share ideas that they would like to build for Hack Week. The key here is freely let the ideas flow, so people can hear different proposals and build on top of one another. To allow more opportunites for folks to speak their mind, we split the local and remote engineers into smaller groups for brainstorming.

After the groups have spent 20 minutes in the discussion, we then regroup for the last 10 min to share as a group. The goal is to get to hear as many ideas as we can.

This is where crazy ideas get shared. For example:

  1. Food recommendation around the Mission District (where our office is at)
  2. Bathroom playlist recommendation.
  3. Free up our meeting rooms with some Google Calendar/Slack integration.

Of course, not all of these ideas get to be implemented, but it’s impressively cool to see how creative people can get when they’re given the freedom to think outside the box.

Hack Week Begins!

Kick Start

Kick start is where people share the idea they would like to work on. It usually is a 1-minute description of what the project is, why it’s interesting, and a call for members to join the team’s Slack channel to participate in hacking.

People usually have a 1 slider similar to this: slide

Again, it’s more about gaining interest for more people to participate in the project.

Ready…set…HACK!

During hacking, we ask each team to create a Slack channel for their project, and we also ask hackers to make a daily stand up to be accountable for the project they work on.

Hack Demos and Party!

Alt Text

Demo is where people showcase their creations! This is a time where we celebrate all the projects that are built. Everyone gets to share the stuff they have been working on. Along with the presentation, we also have wine, beer, and finger food to celebrate! We also have judges representing Product, Engineering, Marketing, and Remote to evaluate the winners.

Cool Projects that came out along the way that we can share (since they’re open sourced!)…

open_sourced_projects

Erlang Formatter

A Rebar3 plugin for code formatting! (repo here)

Batchie Patchie

A service built on top of AWS batch for jobs monitoring! (code here / Previous Blog about batchie patchie here)

TrailDB

An efficient way to store event based data (code here)

Python HyperLogLog

Python implementation of hyperloglog (code here)

Winners

In the end, everyone is a winner! Everyone had fun building something awesome, and we all had wine and cheese and swag to celebrate it. To put an icing on top of the cake, we have our Hack Week judges get together to decide the winners. Prizes are given to the most product-driven project, the most technical-driven project, and the bounty prices!

Wrap up!

And that’s how we spend our time two weeks per year! We hope it provides a glimpse of the engineering life that is happening around in NextRoll!