Inspired by Yelp, Twitter, and Fred Wilson, we had our first annual Active.com (internal) hackathon last week. Through prodding, coaxing and bribery, we ended up with 20 teams vying for the title of "Best Hack". Teams could consist of no more than two, in part because I couldn't allocate the grand prize, a trip to the Web 2.0 Expo, to more than two. UX people paired with hardcore engineers. Web App Developers paired with Web App Developers. And some just went it alone.
The rules were strict. All code written had to be produced during the hackathon, which started at 12am PST on 16 December and ended at 9:45am PST on the 17th. Hackers were, however, allowed to use Active.com or open source libraries. Two very inventive teams, however, incorporated devices such as the Arduino into their hacks. This was a pleasantly unexpected outcome. And also to my surprise, many teams hacked for over 24 hours making good use of the time alloted.
As the clock winded down I prepared the meeting room for hackathon demos. I'd assembled a team of 6 high-ranking judges from various disciplines - VP of Technology, Vice President of my division, Senior Director of IT Operations, etc. This team would be responsible for determining the overall winner, as well as the winner of each category, which were Most Original, Best Execution, Most Business Potential, and Best Demo.
Each team had three minutes to demo, along with a 2 minute question/answer/transition session. Teams from China had begun hacking on their 16th of December and submitted screencasts for me to play during the demo. They, unfortunately, didn't get a question/answer session. The meeting room was packed with geeks and business folks alike. Our COO would later comment to me that he noticed a lot of laughter during the demos, but that people weren't laughing because what they were seeing was funny. They were laughing because what they were seeing was blowing them away.
At a minimum people walked away from this experience with a realization of just how creative software engineers can be. As one colleague puts it, in many ways, engineers are like artists. But instead of having a canvas, they have an IDE. And two of the ideas have already been inserted into our roadmap for next year, which is an awesome outcome.
Best Hack (Overall Winner)
Team Me - Rob Cameron
Rob created an RFID checkin system to get around the issue of a user needing a smartphone to check in to venues or events.
SF Here We Come - Marc Villanueva, Chris Ferguson
Marc and Chris created an RV route finder that uses Google Maps and the Active.com Camping API to show where you might park your RV on your cross country trip. They also integrated into the Yelp API to pull up a list of REIs along the route but hit their quota limit before doing the demo.
Team Tunes - Eugene Correia
Eugene integrated the last.fm API into our Active Trainer Beta to produce a song list for training plans.
Most Business Potential
Real Deal - Airey Baringer, Chris Smith
Airey and Chris built a prototype that showed how we might port Active.com event listings into Facebook in order to reach a broader audience in a more social way.
Team Sweden - Hakan Lindestaf
Hakan integrated a realtime notification service into an LED display for Active Golf.