Nearly every year around December, TheLadders freezes development and releases around the holidays to stabilize the site in preparation for the expected spike in site traffic from professionals hoping to make good on their New Year's resolutions to find a new job. A colleague of mine, Ed Cudahy, had the idea to use this time for an internal Hackathon and it's been our pre-holiday tradition ever since.
This annual event has been hugely valuable for our product development teams allowing us to build and test innovative new tools and techniques. Reaching a little bit beyond their technical comfort zone is something that we want our teams to embrace all the time. Encouraging that creativity during the Hackathon is a great way to help incorporate innovation into our everyday process and get everyone involved in the process of innovating at all stages of implementation.
This year, we extended the event to four days total to make sure there was time to trace a full product development arc: from ideation to selection of tools to the crunch-time that hits just short of the finish line. With just a little direction and a lot more freedom, I think this was the most successful Hackathon yet. In our experience, a strict set of requirements can stifle some good ideas—and the whole purpose of this event is for people to stretch their brains a little.
To create little breaks and make good use of some of the ridiculous (i.e. awesome) toys we've accumulated on the floor here, we added a number of side competitions as well. Really, these were just for fun to build team morale and release a little energy. In the true spirit of a Hackathon, all of our awards and trophies were hacks in and of themselves. We had a few golden mice, a golden keyboard, and the grand prize, a lego trophy with an Arduino and an LED sheild embedded in the front scrolling the word "WINNING". Taking a little inspiration from the television show "The League," we expect that this year's winning team will modify the trophy and present it to the team that wins next year's Hackathon.
Dustin Lucien is the Director of Engineering at TheLadders with 15 years of product development experience. When not planning flying fish races as a fun diversion for internal hackathons, you can find him at home in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Clinton Hill.