BlueCat Hackathon: Blows expectations out of the water

Think of a software feature you can’t remember life without. It can be anything: The “Like” button on Facebook, tagging in social media comments, the…

Think of a software feature you can’t remember life without. It can be anything: The “Like” button on Facebook, tagging in social media comments, the technology that made it possible to organize group messaging on your phone without a degree in executive functioning.

Now try to picture the origin story of that technology. As a species we tend to mythologize what we worship. For tech, this has resulted in the Aaron Sorkin Effect. In this narrative everyone speaks in brilliant dialogue while game-changing algorithms tumble effortlessly from their fingertips and rumpled jeans look like a million bucks.

The reality looks more like this: A packed room of T-shirt clad, pizza-fueled coders who put 10,000 miles on their laptops in one weekend. It’s imperfect, unglamorous, and crackles with energy. Industry folks refer to this phenomenon as a Hackathon.

In base form, Hackathons are idea accelerators that inspire innovation in a charged, collaborative environment. At the end of a successful Hackathon, participants make great connections and solve meaningful problems with a blueprint for further development. In this very spirit, BlueCat hosted our first ever in-house Hackathon, “Resolve to Innovate”.

The idea sprang from one of BlueCat’s weekly Lean Coffee sessions, where our product team leads an open forum to discuss technology, products, process and other topics. The goal was to give employees a chance to flex their creative muscles and see what they could do with three full workdays, a completely blank slate, and several metric tons of carbohydrates.

Though BlueCat CTO Andrew Wertkin enthusiastically signed off on the event, he figured it would take several Hackathons to create any real buzz. He was wrong. “I wasn’t joking when I said I’d never seen so many people in the office before 8:30 am,” he says. “They were really excited to do it. There was so much energy. I was blown away.”

From March 30 to April 1, 20 groups divided up to tackle problems that ranged from the practical, like improved features on our existing products, to crucial real-world issues like how to automate our anachronistic meal program in the BlueCat kitchen.

Our developers took initiative when it came time to code, but staff from finance to marketing were keen to contribute. Never ones to miss out on a good time, members of our international BlueCat family chimed in remotely.

The chance to work with colleagues in different departments proved one of the ultimate highlights: “It was exciting because we came together because of an idea, instead of being put together on a work project. The process took you out of the day-to-day and moved you into a context where you do your best. We were learning and doing at the same time,” says Eugen Hoanca, Technical Team Lead, whose group took honourable mention for building a remote workflow management tool on iOS for BlueCat’s Address Manager (BAM).

When it came time to pick a winner, judges looked for innovation, technical capability, and future potential. Teams had five minutes to demo their product and an additional two minutes to field questions.

The winning team created a two-way communication channel between a pair of our products – BAM and BDDS (BlueCat’s Address Manager, and DNS and DHCP servers) – bypassing architectural bottlenecks in order to automate the process of discovering and configuring thousands of servers, simultaneously.

“They demonstrated something can be done that nobody thought could easily be done. And they did enough of it in 2.5 days to convince us we should try to do this,” Wertkin, one of the judges, says of the winning team.

Going forward, BlueCat plans to hold a Hackathon between each product release in order to blow off steam, get the innovation juices flowing and start thinking differently about what we do, says David Dame, Director of Agile and Lean Practices.

“This is where so many brilliant ideas come from,” Dame adds. “A sense of community, a change of routine, and an opportunity to inject more creativity into the engineering process.”

Like Hackathons? Love innovation? BlueCat is hiring!

To learn more about how you can join the BlueCat family, visit our Careers page for job listings.

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