For an entire day last week, you could walk the halls of Ask and hear next-to-no activity—that is, until you passed the conference rooms. There, teams of six typed frantically on laptops, sketched formulas on whiteboards, talked logistics. Translated: the Ask Hackathon was in full swing.

Ask’s quarterly Hackathons are two-day events: one day to concept and one half-day to present. The goal: come up with an idea and present to a panel of judges. Our team of judges gauge ideas based on potential business impact, creativity (both in concept and in use of existing technologies), and quality of pitch. 

The winning ideas receive development resources and bragging rights. The losing ones still give our people the chance to leverage the latest technologies, try non-traditional processes, and spread their wings creating something new. 

When We Say “All-Hands”…

Perhaps more important, our Hackathons aren’t just for our engineers or product teams. We open the event up to the entire company. Members from our design, operations, and marketing teams get involved. Even our finance and legal departments pitch in to devise, package and execute ideas to create the next great company innovation.

Last quarter’s hackers were encouraged to come up with virtually any idea that would benefit the company—and they responded with two dozen presentable concepts. One of these evolved into Pollroll, the mobile app that Ask launched at this year’s SXSW conference to great acclaim. This time around, Hackathon heads Nick McCann and Alisa Barnes focused this quarter’s teams to create a new service (or use an existing or third-party service in a new way). Aside from that, the only rules were (1) be in the office, and (2) be creative. 

Teams Working: Do Not Disturb

If you knew where to look, the company was buzzing. Phrases like “social signals,” “aggregated for you,” “iPad app,” and “pulling links from I.M.” bounced through the halls. As did, for some reason, Marketing Director Robbie Waeschenfelder’s spot-on George Takei impersonation.

Mid-way through Day One, in a common area near the marketing department, six Askers leaned forward from white leatherette couches and devised ways to get celebrity gossip more conveniently. In another room, the team from the Campbell office bounced between their laptop screens and their whiteboards. Another team pitched out names for their new service, but had trouble finding an acronym that didn’t sound like “murder” (spoiler alert: they found one)

Stay Tuned…

Come by the blog on Monday for a more in-depth look at the teams and how they collaborate—plus, find out why our Hackathons are a pilot program for how we’ll approach our products and services in the future.

Then come by on Wednesday to find out what some of our top brass has to say about the Ask Hackathon, and take an in-depth look at the judging…and the winners!

In the meantime, enjoy these snapshots of day one. Have any hackathon memories from your own companies you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments section below.

—Ken Grobe,