Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hack Day Summary

Yesterday's Hack Day, by all accounts, was the best one yet. The concept is rare enough that we had the local newspaper and TV cameras in the office to capture the event.

To make the day memorable, GenoLogics pulled out all the stops. There were plates of snacks and candy, along with coolers full of gatorade, pop and energy drinks scattered around the office. At lunch there was more pizza than we could eat. Finally, when it was all over, everyone who produced a hack was entered into a draw for a bunch of great, and geeky, prizes. (Remote control helicopters, battle tanks, USB drink coolers and loads of other stuff from Think Geek.)

So what was hacked? I'll try and list them all, but forgive me if I leave a few out:
  • Melanie showed an iTunes style browser interface wedded into Geneus's main data display pane.
  • Tony showed an SVG hack that he is working on for his Master's degree.
  • Jianping expanded the UI in Proteus to allow for extensive customization of user icons.
  • Ryan showed a joke set of splash screens for an upcoming product we're working on.
  • Paul and Sameer used Lego Mindstorms and a pair of laptops to create a remote-controlled robotic webcam. Using a web interface from Boston, one of our remote employees could drive the robot-laptop around the office moving his virtual eyes and face any place he liked.
  • I showed a rapidly configured Asterisk server running inside a VMWare image, with full SIP trunking to the PSTN and the Gizmo project. I also showed a WebDAV extension to our internal Wiki that allows everyone to store files in the Wiki instead of traditional file shares.
  • Mark helped my Asterisk hack by modifying VMWare Server to run a virtual machine created on VMWare Fusion on my Mac (these two product are not yet officially compatible).
  • Michael and Tyler showed a cool hack that generates live graphs of our sales pipeline over time.
  • Adam hacked his iPod and iTunes to properly sync play-counts and produced an RSS feed of all his recently played music, along with a great web-portal to display it all.
  • Shahriar demonstrated a cool USB-key + iPod hack that showed Proteus running on any computer by booting from the USB-key and running a VMWare image from the iPod.
  • Dylan showed a Bit-Torrent searching engine that automatically finds items you have placed in a To-Do list at Remember-The-Milk and sends notifications via RSS and SMS.
  • Pandora and Cassandra showed a new context-sensitive help engine they integrated into our Proteus (PDF) desktop client.
  • Kelly, who was working remotely from Vancouver, used Skype video to show us how he hacked his Wii-mote to be a wireless mouse on his Mac.
It was an incredible collection of amazing ideas, all hacked together in under eight hours. The best part of Hack Day is how it encouraged everyone to break out of our normal patterns and experiment with new ideas and solutions.

Any software manager who is reading this post should take note of the number of people who voluntarily selected hacks that enhanced our existing products or improved our regular business operations. I'm convinced that Hack Day generates more value for GenoLogics than any regular work day does. If you haven't tried it with your group, I strongly suggest you give it a shot.

Even if you don't create software, you can have a Hack Day. We have people in our sales, marketing and customer support groups participate in Hack Day all the time.

How can you encourage Hack Day where you work?

(updated 25 June 2007. Added Shahriar's hack)

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