During the first month of every year all Novanet employees gathers at a cabin in the mountains. It's time for the annual Hackaton! Everyone gathers for a weekend to work together on a technically challenging assignment. In addition to a lot of social activities and great food and beverages :)
There are several reasons why we'd want to go somewhere to code for a whole weekend:
We all work at Novanet, but normally on a day-to-day basis we're physically at a customer. Usually we work 2 or 3 Novanetters at one customer. The others we see at our internal meetup every 3 weeks or at other social events. So, the Hackaton is an opportunity to work with colleagues that we don't work with every day. By working together, we get to know our colleagues both on a personal and technical level. Maybe they have a hidden skill that we didn't know about?
At Novanet we have a strong knowledge sharing culture. It's important for us to know our colleagues’ technical strengths. Then we'll know who to ask if we need some help. If a customer has a particular problem, we regularly "borrow" colleagues from other projects to make sure the customers gets an expert on the problem. To do this we need to know who the experts are.
The Hackaton is also a great way to integrate new employees in our technical and social culture, and fast-track the social connections.
Improving our skills
When we're at a customer we work in a familiar tech stack and domain. So, working with something completely different can be refreshing. For the hackatons we try to create an assignment that involves something exiting and new, but also might be relevant for future projects. Trying out a new programming language or a new service on a cloud provider might be part of the assignment. Figuring out something new with highly skilled colleagues makes a great learning experience for everyone.
A big part of the Hackaton is the social aspect. It's supposed to be fun, interactive and to strengthen the personal relationships with our colleagues. So, we make sure that everyone won't stare at their laptop all weekend. When we work at different customers and don't see each other every day, it's extra important to meet and build a culture that makes everyone feel part of Novanet.
The planning starts almost a year in advance of the Hackaton. The main reason for this is that cabins with 25 beds gets booked very early. When the cabin is booked, we select a team (2-3 people) responsible for the technical part of the Hackaton.
The technical team is responsible for:
- Selecting any hardware/software/platform involved
- Exploring the hardware/software/platform to be able to answer question
- Implementing code or solutions to make sure
- Creating an assignment or cases/user stories
- Deciding on the goals of the Hackaton
The last couple of years the Hackaton has revolved around IoT and sensors. In 2019 the assignment was to create a smart hotel, and we had hardware like Phillips Hue, Estimote Beacons and Google Home/Assistant. This year we used the AZ3166 IOT Developer Kit, which sends sensor data to Azure IoT Hub. So, in both cases the technical team needed to do some research in how to communicate with the hardware.
It's important to do this research and make sure configuration and set up is at a minimum when the Hackaton starts. We want to be productive and creative. Not get stuck with configuration.
As for the goals of the Hackaton, we have decided to have a team competition every year. The teams are awarded points in the form of badges. Where each badge is a separate task. Like the "Mushroom Kingdom"-badge which awarded 100 points for making use of the moisture sensor.
In addition, we have badges that are awarded by the judges (usually the technical team) after the competition has ended. Like the "Steve Jobs"-badge for best presentation or the "Jon Skeet"-badge for best technical implementation. The team with the most points in total wins the Hackaton.
To avoid everyone just sitting on their laptops, we break up the Hackaton with practical challenges. We've had the egg drop challenge and the marshmallow challenge. We've built bridges out of paper and had an outdoor ski jump competition. These challenges are fun, social and really suits a room full of engineers.
We also plan one-hour mandatory breaks. Where one member of each team is put into a group. The group can decide on an activity they would like to do in their break. Like cross country skiing, hiking, board games etc. Then we get to spend time with people in the other teams as well.
At Novanet we're really lucky to have our own "trivselsansvarlig". Which translates to something like "Wellbeing Manager". The Wellbeing Manager makes us awesome food and helps our Event Manager with the activities.
A good combination of technical challenges, social activities and great food really is a recipe for a great weekend. But the most important ingredient is the awesome people at Novanet!
If you have any questions about hackatons or Novanet, feel free to contact me at email@example.com