Showing posts tagged Hackathon
They came, they saw, they hacked. And they ate ice cream sandwiches from local supplier CREAM Nation - courtesy of Ask.com. Hey, when you’re burning the midnight oil at the biggest Hackathon TC has put on to date (a record 147 teams presented 1 minute pitches on Sunday night) warm cookies smothered in ice cream sound, uh, really good. In fact, they might just be the perfect pairing with our personal favorite Hackathon entry, Sirious Margaritas – a Siri powered margarita machine.
But I digress. Our heartfelt congrats to this year’s winner – Livebolt – which is a cloud-based system that uses a $60 block of metal and an iPhone app to authorize the locking/unlocking of virtually any door. What will these folks think of next?
Valerie Combs, Ask.com
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about our Hackathons, it’s that each one yields different results—and this, our third one, is no exception.
Our first ‘thon gave us Pollroll, which is, well, rolling along nicely. Our second one gave us one concept that we’re bringing to Twitter, and another that’s already improved our improved our database-query times by 50X.
This time, organizers Nick McCann and Alisa Barnes raised the stakes yet again. For our Summer 2012 Hackathon, our eighty participants not only hacked products, they also explored ways to improve their presentation skills.
To help teams focus their ideas, this ‘thon had a theme: social media. After all, our users and partners continue to use social media tools. As a business, we’re continually looking for ways to incorporate social media in the work we do. Hence, the desire to come up with ideas that build on our existing offerings.
“I’m really excited to see what we get out of this (Hackathon),” Alisa told me. “I’m expecting it to impact our product roadmap significantly.”
The Art of the Pitch
Not everyone is comfortable with presenting in front of a group, so Eve Chaurand-Fraser, our VP of Business Development and General Counsel, offered our hacker teams “pitch workshops” to hone their skills. “We didn’t want great ideas to slip through the cracks based on the presentation alone — not everyone does this sort of thing for their job,” Eve explained. “I wanted to level the playing field.”
Hacking for the Prize
Thursday’s hacking went on behind closed doors and on the occasional cubicle island. Friday began with presentations from all ten teams. With lunch came the judging, and by 1:30 PM, we had our winner: Team OMGCLICK with an idea that involved a content indexing system and an in-house tool that would let Ask Editors assemble hilarious and/or fascinating content into easily shareable (dare we hope “viral?”) galleries and collections. The victors received iPods and Jamboxes — and trophies, of course. But everyone received experience — in pitching, in product creation and in thinking about social media. Believe us; you’ll see more of that from us in the future.
—Ken Grobe, Ask.com
Ask.com joined forces with Code for Oakland this past weekend to build the best ideas for apps to help support economic development in Oakland, improve civic engagement, and provide tools to attract and sustain local businesses. 12 teams hacked away and came up with a variety of ideas addressing the needs of Oakland’s diverse community. Would an app to test low income kids for kindergarten readiness make the cut? How about an app designed to help disabled members of the community look for jobs??
But alas, only one team could be crowned the winner and Hack the Budget: Oakland was the victor!
Hack the Budget: Oakland aims to turn Oakland’s budgeting documents into something citizens can easily read, understand and most important, act on in the polls! The team earned a $1,000 cash prize along with an amazing support package to help the team complete the app, develop a business plan, marketing strategy and to help prepare the product for a full launch!
The team will be working to finalize the application over the next few weeks. Congratulations to all the participants and the Hack the Budget: Oakland team!
We had actual winners, who won bona fide trophies and prizes for services that you’ll see launched later this year.
That said, everyone at the Hackathon had a good time, learned new stuff, and came up with strong concepts. It’s amazing what smart people can do when email and meetings are taken off the table for even one day.
Welcome to the Science Fair
As you’ll recall, this Hackathon had a theme: services, both internal and external. VP of Project Management and Hackathon co-leader Alisa Barnes explains it thusly: “We want to be able to serve up answers anywhere by creating things that people are going to be able to use in more places—(for instance) that a third party could use or syndicate in some way.”
After the first day of brainstorming, concepting, and building came day two: presentations. Affectionately called “the science fair,” each team presents their concept, via demo and/or PowerPoint presentation, to a roving panel of judges: Alisa, VP of Engineering Nick McCann, EVP of Business Operations Shane McGilloway, Chief Product & Technology Officer Lisa Kavanaugh, and CEO Doug Leeds.
One project leveraged Twitter, YouTube, open APIs, and widgets of various stripes. Another focused on user-specific page optimization to lower email bounce rates. Still another incorporated a real-time element to questions and answers that included live video. Our judges reviewed, listened, asked questions, and ultimately chose six finalists.
These finalists presented to the entire company, and were evaluated not just by the judges, but the company at large , plus a guest judge, Josh Meyer, CEO of People Media, who watched the presos via videoconference.
It All Comes Down To This
Once the judges returned from their chambers (AKA Doug’s office), the winners were…a hashtag-aggregation service which won the Judges’ AND Audience awards, and the aforementioned video-driven Q & A service, which won the Peoples Choice award.
After the ceremonies, the victors headed back to their desks with trophies and new iPads and Apple TV devices. The judges made plans to regroup to see how many of these ideas could become integrated within the product roadmap. And everyone got a taste of where this company is headed. If we can get there, THEN everybody wins.
Have any ideas for great new services? Share them in the comments below.
Just kidding. Please don’t do that. BUT, if you have any comments about this three-part series of Hackathon posts, we’d love to hear them. Especially the nice ones.
PS: if you want to work at a place that holds regular Hackathons, check out our job listings. We’re hiring!
—Ken Grobe, Ask.com
For those of you not familiar with the standard company hackathon, it’s a department-wide event where engineers create new(ish) products and services in a short amount of time without having to sweat the standard company process (QA, L&P, general production readiness).
Ask.com cranks that up a notch. Here, we hack the whole company.
Busting Routines, Building Teams
At any company, It’s all too easy to get caught up in roles and deadlines and forget to step back and think more creatively. That’s why our Hackathons start by encouraging teams to cross-pollinate. For 24 hours, UX designers and product managers pair with operations personnel, engineers, support staff, marketers, etc.—taking everyone out of their comfort zones and, hopefully, exploding any bad habits.
“Our Hackathons have many tangible benefits—only one of which is actually launching a product.” Ask CEO Doug Leeds offered. “Sometimes it’ll be the people who worked together, saying, ‘You know, the thing that we worked on (for Hackathon) didn’t necessarily apply to current roadmap—but I like working with you. Let’s continue to team on interesting things.’”
Cracking Code, Going Agile
When your goal is day-to-day maintenance and reliability, there’s often a tendency to rely on legacy systems and code. One of VP of Engineering Nick McCann’s favorite elements of the event is setting his engineers free to work with new and different technologies: Node.js, NoSQL variants…the list goes on.
“We normally code apps in C/C++ or Java.” Nick explained. “But let’s say that (a Hackathon team) decides to create theirs in Node.js (a newer language). It gives them a full day to experiment and work with this language—making our engineers better rounded.”
The success of our multi-disciplinary Hackathon teams also helps us speed the current transition of our product development process from the classic “waterfall approach” to a modified single-team/agile/scrum structure (If you’re not familiar with the terminology, just know that it’s a good thing). ;-)
Creating a New Culture
But the most Ask-specific goal of our two-day company-hack is our plan to forge a company culture of creativity Ask. We began it in earnest months ago with our “Funnovation” applied improv sessions, to encourage and farm innovation. The Hackathon—a full day of intensive email- and meeting-free collaboration—is proving a natural extension as we make the time to execute the best ideas.
Sure, we want to create the next great service (more on that—and our winners—in Wednesday’s post)…but our Hackathons go beyond that. They’re a pilot program for what we want Ask to be: unified, nimble, supportive, and above all, innovative.
Here’s a few more photos from the event itself. Tune in Wednesday when we cover the presos, the judging, and the victors.
How does your company drive change—and how do you *wish* yours would? Let us know in the comments below.
—Ken Grobe, Ask.com
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)
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.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to check out the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon organized in New York. There is something about this type of event that sets it apart from others – maybe it’s the hacking itself, the people or the atmosphere — nonetheless, I am always excited to participate. The challenge? Pick a real-world problem and hack a solution – all in 24 hours. The event is geared towards developers, just the type of folks who are not afraid to get down and harness the best of their abilities to build something that’s functional in such a short timeframe.
At the Disrupt Hackathon, developers either went solo or banded together in groups – it seemed you were definitely at an advantage working in a group given the short duration. Also, given the nature of the event, most developers found they were better off leveraging existing APIs from other sites and properties, than building something from scratch.
Thanks to the many open APIs available, the developers were able to focus on the problem and tap a vast array of available APIs to tackle tricky use cases like acquiring data from other systems. APIs can also give developers new ideas on what they can incorporate in their application, and additional functionality to enhance the value proposition. Best of all, since most of these APIs are based on HTTP, and optionally RESTful, they can be leveraged by an application built on any platform that supports it — be it mobile, desktop or a large scale web application. Not only does this make the APIs extremely powerful but also both parties are able to benefit. The API provider gets additional exposure to its services, brand recognition and possibly new content, while developers get to build upon existing services, extending them or incorporating them in interesting ways. Check out some of the top hacks from this year here .
At Ask, we are passionate about answering questions, and we have developed sophisticated systems and algorithms that combine the power of search with the insight of a live user community. We see a lot of value in giving developers access to our technology via simple APIs that are easy to use and integrate and give developers around the world ability to integrate our answers technology into their products. Expect to hear more from us on this front in the coming months!
I definitely want to give Tarikh Korula and Daniel Raffel a big shout out for doing an excellent job organizing the event and am looking forward to the San Francisco Disrupt hackathon scheduled later this year.
Vishal Shah, Director of Engineering, Mobile & Platforms